Last season, the Oregon men’s basketball team garnered three wins in three days to win the Pac-12 tournament. This time, the Ducks will have to win four games in four days to take home the trophy.
“I’m going into this tournament with the same mindset (as last year),” senior guard Jonathan Loyd said. “Just go in and swing away, really.”
To begin their defense of the Pac-12 tournament championship crown, the Ducks will play Oregon State. The most-played rivalry in college basketball history will get a little more exciting as both teams will each travel about 900 miles to Las Vegas to meet in the first round of the tournament. The teams have combined to play 341 times prior to Wednesday’s game, but this will be the first time they’ll have played in the conference tournament against one another.
“We need to get ready quickly for Oregon State, a big physical team,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “It’ll be a tough opening round game. Their size always gives us problems.”
Although the Ducks finished with a 10-8 record in Pac-12 play and are tied for third place with five other teams, they’ll be the No. 7 seed due to tiebreakers. The Beavers finished Pac-12 play with an 8-10 record and earned the No. 10 seed.
The teams met twice earlier in the year with each team winning at home.
Oregon State handled the Ducks in the first meeting. The Beavers led from the get-go and never allowed Oregon to get into a rhythm offensively en route to an 80-72 victory. The rematch went in Oregon’s favor as the Ducks used their full-court press to stunt the Beavers on offense, while Joseph Young led the Ducks with 25 points in their 93-83 win.
Led by Eric Moreland, Devon Collier and Angus Brandt, the Beavers have a loaded frontcourt that should give the Ducks plenty of trouble, much like the first meeting.
Brandt is the anchor on offense and defense. The redshirt senior center is capable of scoring with either hand while being able to keep defenses honest by stepping out and hitting jumpers. Collier is the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.5 points per game and is a load down low as he uses his physical body to push weaker defenders out of the way. Moreland is the spark plug down low, averaging 8.3 points, a team-leading 10.4 rebound and 2.0 blocks per game.
The Ducks will counter with a front line of Mike Moser, Waverly Austin and Ben Carter. The Ducks have more than enough talent to limit the Beavers on offense, but they’re going to need consistent play from all four players.
“It’s a big honor, especially considering all the great players who have come through here,” Moser said. “It’s definitely a good feeling knowing I’m the first one to do it.”
Oregon seems to be in good shape as Austin and Carter have improved significantly over the past few weeks, most notably with Austin’s performance against Arizona State (five point, 10 rebound, five blocks) and Carter’s game-sealing bucket and block over the final 1:20 of Saturday’s win over then-No. 3 Arizona.
“Brandt down there, he’s a great anchor for them. Collier is real strong while Moreland is bouncy and plays hard and tenacious,” Loyd said. “It’s going to be a good matchup for them, those three against our three.”
Oregon’s strength on offense comes from the play of its guards, most notably Young, Loyd, Damyean Dotson and Jason Calliste.
Young received all-Pac-12 second team despite averaging 18.2 points per game for the Ducks while consistently coming up clutch for the team in the midst of their seven-game winning streak. Loyd and Dotson are the two players with the most experience in the Pac-12 tournament as they are the only returning starters from last year’s championship team (Note: Dotson’s court date for his false ID citation is scheduled for Friday, March 14, the third day of the tournament). Calliste is one of the best shooters in the conference, if not the country, shooting 51.7 percent from three-point range and averaging 12.5 points per game, including 14 points over the final 10:50 of the Arizona game.
“Coming off the bench probably isn’t easy, but he’s like, ‘I’ll do whatever I got to do to help this team’,” Loyd said. “He’s cold-blooded. I watched the Arizona game and I’m just looking like, ‘Man, this dude can shoot.’ He’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever played with.”
The Beavers don’t have a lot of depth at the guard position and besides the play of Roberto Nelson, the conference’s leading scorer at 20.6 points per game, no other guard scores more than 7.5 points per game. Hallice Cooke has the potential to play spoiler against Oregon considering he shoots 48.3 percent from three-point range and scored 10 points and dished out five assists in the Beavers’ win over the Ducks earlier in the season.
“You just try and keep him (Nelson) from really going off,” Altman said. “He’s a great scorer and we aren’t going to stop him, we just got to slow him down a little bit and not give him a lot of easy looks.”
The Ducks will look to cement an NCAA tournament berth with a win over Oregon State. The two teams play at 6 p.m. Wednesday night.
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