There are only a few weeks left in the regular season, yet there’s still one Pac-12 opponent the Arizona Wildcats haven’t faced. It just so happens to be one of their biggest nemeses in recent years.
Oregon (17-9, 10-5) has won seven consecutive games against as the UA, the most recent last March in what ended up being the final game of the Sean Miller era. This will be the first chance for the Tommy Lloyd-led Wildcats (23-2, 13-1) to see the Ducks, who are currently in fourth place in the Pac-12 and on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
To better understand this Oregon team, we reached out to Carl Blackwell of SB Nation sister site Addicted to Quack. Here are his fluent answers to our inarticulate questions:
AZ Desert Swarm: Oregon was picked to finish second in the Pac-12, even getting a pair of first-place votes, yet the Ducks started the year 6-6 and have had some head-scratching losses (including Thursday at ASU and last week at home to Cal). What’s not clicking for this team?
Carl Blackwell: “In a way, the season started as many have for the Ducks under Dana Altman. The Ducks get a slow start, either because of injuries or new players getting used to playing with veterans, and then come January Altman has a team together that’s making a tournament run. This season started in typical fashion; Oregon was hit by the injury bug early on and was waiting for N’Faly Dante to fully recover from the ACL injury he suffered in December 2020.
“Oregon gets its injured players back, and they looked to be on their usual roll in January and February … except that they’re not. A month ago they knocked down No. 3 UCLA and No. 5 USC on the road and it looked like Altman was doing the magic that he does at the end of the season. Then Oregon loses at home to Colorado? That was an easily overlooked sign that not all was right, but it was an easy oversight given that the following weekend the Ducks did something they’re never pulled off: a sweep on the road against the Mountain schools. Sweeps on the road against the Southern California schools, and then over Colorado and Utah, and it looked like the Ducks were in fine form entering February and March.
“And then the wheels fell off.
“In the last four games, Oregon has been under its season scoring average with a high of 68 against Stanford. Yes, it did win the Stanford game and defeated Washington State, but looked very shaky in the process. The loss to Cal came about due to the Bears’ solid defense for most of the game and the Ducks looked rattled and missed shots that they should not have. Oregon almost dropped the contest against the Cougars and that game was definitely not over until it was over.
“What Cal did defensively against the Ducks was not lost on the Sun Devils, who pressed Oregon relentlessly and Oregon could not find the basket. That brings us to an unusual February slump for Altman and the Ducks. It’s not a position Oregon is used to being in.
“A final note: Oregon is used to having at least a couple of shooters that can consistently get the longball to land. That’s not the case at this point in the season, and Oregon is having difficulty putting their threes in the bucket.”
Leading scorer Will Richardson has been Oregon’s most consistent player, with six 20-point games and two Pac-12 Player of the Week awards. What is working best for him in his senior season?
“Richardson is at his best when he is getting the support he needs from his fellow teammates. He can take a game over but he can’t do it alone. I think a couple of poor shooting performances might have him playing—and losing—against himself. If Oregon aspires to any kind of postseason play, Will Richardson will need to play at his best.”
Transfers have always been an integral part of the Ducks’ roster under coach Dana Altman. How would you rate the performance of this year’s portal pickups?
“Our transfer players are Jacob Young, De’Vion Harmon, Quincy Guerrier, Eric Williams, Jr., and Rivaldo Soares. Young has been very good on defense, and Arizona will know that he’s there; however, his three ball has not been there of late and he has proven to be not so great on the line. But that’s not on just him, because the entire team has been one of the poorest at the free throw line in recent memory. That free throw shooting, while not being the sole contributor to Oregon losses, is a significant factor.
“The others have been good and have had flashes of brilliance, but right now the entire team seems to not be working well as a cohesive unit. Oregon finds itself in a place that it’s not familiar with, and it’s difficult to point fingers at any one player and say this player is doing well and this one over here is not.”
What would you say is Oregon’s biggest strength this season, as well as its most glaring flaw?
“If Oregon is going to put together any kind of tournament run, it’s because of Altman. His ability to coach is the strength of any Duck team. The flaw right now is that this team seems to not be working together well at all. Ball movement is poor. Shot selection is poor. Shots aren’t going in. That translates to Oregon’s most glaring flaw being the seeming inability to play a solid 40 minutes. Oregon also misses having the kind of dominant point guard that they’ve had in the past.”
Prediction time. Does Oregon continue its dominance of Arizona, winning an 8th straight game and keeping the Pac-12 title race interesting, or do the Wildcats end their skid against the Ducks and move closer to clinching? Give us a score prediction.
“The Ducks have shown no indication that they can defeat the Wildcats. They’re not a team headed for the NIT right now, much less the NCAA tournament. And yet, in year past at this part of the season, they have risen from the dead and punched a ticket to the NCAA tourney. They could put it together and sprint to the finish line. But are they going to? I don’t think so. In fact, if Oregon defeats Arizona, every stunned Wildcat fan will be behind me in the shocked line. I don’t think they can do it. I see Arizona taking this away in the second half—again—and beating the Ducks 85-71.”