An unexpected, undefeated conference mark after seven games. A nine-game win-streak. Ranked in the top 10 in the entire nation for the first time in six years. Twenty consecutive home victories and a balanced rotation of players. The Oregon Ducks men’s basketball team was sitting pretty at 18-2 and 7-0 in the Pac-12. Two trips down to the Bay Area to take on middle of the pack programs should be easy, right? Reality check.
The once-soaring Ducks are now in a tailspin after back-to-back losses to Stanford and California this past week. The first was a blowout, 76-52 and the second a tight competition in which the Ducks tripped in the home stretch.
The loss to Stanford was a start to finish beat-down that made apparent how much the Ducks miss first-year point guard Dominic Artis.The freshman had been contributing over 10 points, nearly four assists and two steals each game. He was also the Ducks’ leading three-point shooter before he went down.
His replacement, junior Johnathan Loyd, scored zero points and had no assists against Stanford. Loyd improved against the Golden Bears, scoring five points and notching five assists and two steals in the first half before a wrist injury slowed his second half performance.
Oregon is an extremely balanced offensive squad, as the Ducks are one of only eight teams nationwide with five players averaging more than 10 points per game. The title of leading scorer is almost a rotating duty, with different players stepping up as the hot scorer on any given night. But it has taken two surprise losses on the road for Oregon to truly realize the significance of having a distributor who also serves as a scoring threat. In their games in the Bay Area, the Ducks were much more cavalier with the ball and struggled to find as many open shots.
With Artis in the lineup, Oregon already averaged a conference-worst 15.3 turnovers per game. With Artis out, the Ducks have committed over 20 turnovers in three straight games for an average of 21.7. UO has also scored less and shot worse statistically in Artis’ absence.
“D.A. is a guy who hasn’t missed any practice time,” said Altman before the Ducks faced Stanford. “He is the last one to leave the gym, he just loves to play. So this is really bothering him.”
As much as not playing may be bothering Artis, his teammates and fans alike will surely dislike it just as much if the Ducks continue to struggle.
While Loyd can hit open shots and run the floor faster than just about anyone on the court, his role off the bench when Artis was healthy seemed to suit him well. Artis is a smoother, more fluid player who is a scoring threat, an attribute he utilizes to draw defenders to create open looks for his teammates. He is the quarterback at the top of the key, playing most of the minutes at the point. Loyd’s energy is a nice boost from the reserves, and his average of about 17 minutes per game, before being thrust into the starting role, seemed just perfect for him. Now with the responsibility of doing what Artis did, the skill set doesn’t match and oppositions know it.
Before the injury to Artis, head coach Dana Altman sometimes used Artis and Loyd on the court simultaneously, opting for a smaller and faster lineup. Artis would slide down to the two position, still posing as a scoring threat, while Damyean Dotson and E.J. Singler or Carlos Emory would often join the two small guards for a four-man shooting threat. Without Artis, Altman has no one to truly fill the shooting guard spot when Dotson needs a rest, forcing the coach to play a forward at the guard position, which allows opponents to beat the Ducks in transition, as Stanford did to the tune of 23-6 in points off turnovers and fast-breaks.
Freshman guard Willie Moore has seen more playing time with Artis hurt, and in 26 minutes in the two losses, he scored nine points but also committed six turnovers. Altman barely used him against Cal despite Loyd being banged up, which shows that the coach isn’t quite ready to trust Moore to let it fly from the point guard spot. The only other guard option Altman has shown is frosh Fred Richardson III, who played his first Pac-12 minutes against Stanford in garbage time. He played seven minutes and scored five points and had no turnovers. If Artis’ injury continues to keep him sidelined, Altman may have to dig deeper in his bag, and Richardson could start seeing increased time on the hardwood.