NCAA Football

Toughness Being Tested As Ducks Return To Action

December 7, 2017

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After a stretch of three losses in four games, the Oregon men’s basketball team could use a little positive reinforcement.

UO head coach Dana Altman knows that. But the Ducks won’t get it from him. And players say they expect nothing less.

Altman continues to doggedly hound his players about their execution offensively and their tenacity on the defensive end, as the Ducks prepare for Friday’s return to action at Matthew Knight Arena against Colorado State (7:06 p.m., Pac-12 Network). Oregon will return to the court following a weeklong break for final exams, and to rebound from a buzzer-beater loss to Boise State that ended the team’s 46-game home win streak.

“We’ve been getting after it,” sophomore guard Payton Pritchard said of practices between the two games. “But we’re getting better. … Coach isn’t going to take it easy on us, and we don’t want him to. That’s his job.”

The Ducks, 5-3 in their new era following the loss of three NBA draft picks from last year’s Final Four team, got a wake-up call when they went 1-2 in the PK80 Invitational tournament over the Thanksgiving weekend. Altman had hoped those two losses, to Connecticut and Oklahoma, would alert the team to deficiencies he’d been harping on, particularly in its defense and rebounding.

Then came the loss to Boise State on Dec. 1. The Broncos had a 33-30 rebounding edge against the Ducks — who were without their leading rebounder, freshman Troy Brown Jr., due to a concussion — and Oregon gave up .462 field-goal shooting in the second half, including 7-of-11 three-pointers by Boise State.

“Offensively we have to get better,” Altman said Thursday. “But my concerns are much more on the defensive end and the boards.”

And, while Altman acknowledged that “we’re not playing with a lot of confidence right now,” it will have to be earned by players on the court, rather than built up by the coaches. Because Altman isn’t softening his tone.

“No; I’ve been harder on them,” he said. “It’s a physical game. It’s a tough game. If you’re going to compete at the level we hope to compete at later this season, it isn’t going to be easy.”

Friday’s opponent, Colorado State, is outrebounding opponents by nearly seven per game, roughly the same average as Oregon. Colorado State is 4-5 so far on the season, with losses to Florida State, Arkansas and Missouri State, and a win over Colorado.

The Ducks could get a boost on the boards with the return of Brown. The freshman, who averages 7.1 rebounds per game, missed the loss to Boise State after experiencing concussion symptoms stemming from a collision with a teammate in the Oklahoma game. He said being forced to sit and watch Oregon play was eye-opening.

“Taking a step back, I needed that,” Brown said. “People talk about how we’ve been playing, and our effort, but to see it from the bench really helped. All I’ve been focusing on is helping us play as hard as we can, hyping everybody up.”

Brown said the continued demanding tone from Altman “is something we needed — a higher standard, and a higher expectation.”

Players say they’re sticking together through adversity; on Wednesday night, several of the underclassmen including Brown, Victor Bailey Jr., Kenny Wooten and Keith Smith gathered to study for finals. They attacked their academics together Wednesday night, then gathered again to attack their preparations for the Colorado State game in practice Thursday afternoon.

“Everybody’s still on the same page,” Bailey said.

They’re sticking together through tough love from their coach — emphasis on “tough.”

“There’s no way to be soft with them,” Altman said. “You just get after them, and hope they make the adjustment. … We’ll find out tomorrow whether we can make that step or not.”

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