“Fellas, it’s your team.”
That’s what Oregon head coach Dana Altman said to his four seniors (E.J. Singler, Tony Woods, Arsalan Kazemi and Carlos Emory) when Oregon was down 10 at halftime to the lowly Washington State Cougars.
But for Altman it was a game of two halves. “They really took it to us the first half. They outrebounded us, out fought us, they won almost every stat. Second half was a lot different.”
The second half would prove to be a lot different as the Ducks outscored Washington State by 17 on route to a 68-61 victory.
Oregon’s defense was a key factor in the victory. After shooting above 40 percent from the field and over 50 percent from the three-point line (7-11) in the first half, the Ducks shut down the Cougars with stingy defense after halftime. The Cougars shot 27 percent from the field and missed all 11 of their three-point attempts in the second period.
Singler was also a driving force in the Ducks victory as he scored 19 points on the night, including a spurt in the second half where he scored 10 straight points. During Singler’s spurt, the Ducks took their first lead 46-46 and kept the lead from 54-53 on. Altman said this is the type of victory that happens “one of those a year or two of those a year where you’re really outplayed in the first half.”
Senior Arsalan Kazemi, who finished with 16 points in his first Pac-12 start of the season said “During halftime the coaches came after us and said that we would not win the game if we kept playing how we were playing so we had to change it up and step it up.”
And the Ducks did, coming out out of the half on a 9-0 run highlighted by an emphatic steal and dunk by Emory. Oregon went small in the second half to shut down the Cougars spread attack and also improved their shooting from 38 percent to 48 percent in the second half.
The Ducks committed 16 turnovers, including 10 turnovers in the first half, and Altman said most of those turnovers were caused by his players trying to do too much within the offense.
“We’re not sharp, we’re not intense and that’s something that we have to improve.”
Being recently ranked in the top 25 for the first time in five years, and the first time in Singler’s career, Singler said the Ducks are now the hunted instead of the hunter. On being the hunted versus the hunter, Altman said the difference was the mental preparation.
“Your preparation’s different. Mentally you’ve gotta play every game knowing people are coming after you. You’ve gotta have a little edge to you.”
With the win, Oregon improved to 17-2 and 6-0 in conference. The Ducks also increased their home winning streak to 19 games, tied for sixth in the nation. Going into Saturday’s home game against the 12-6 Washington Huskies, Altman knew his team has to play better.
“We didn’t take a step at being better tonight and that’s disappointing.”