Prior to the Dec. 21 game between the Oregon Ducks and the BYU Cougars, many pundits and fans alike thought the game would be a clash between two NCAA tournament caliber teams.
However, no one could’ve predicted that the early season matchup would be a prelude to an NCAA tournament showdown.
On Thursday, No. 7 seed Oregon will play No. 10 BYU for its NCAA tournament lives in the first round in Milwaukee.
Oregon head coach Dana Altman commented on playing a repeat opponent in the first round.
“It’s a little unusual in these circumstances. I don’t think they try to do that much. But it’s not that big of a deal.”
In the game in December, the Ducks gave up a whopping 96 points, 22 points more than their season average(though the game went into overtime).
“They’re a very good offensive team. It was a long time ago that we played them. We’re a different team. They’re a different team. I don’t think we can draw too much from the first game. It was here, which was a big advantage for us because of the crowd,” Altman said.
However, Loyd said the experience will be useful for preparation purposes.
“Their zone defense is a little bit of a hybrid. So just see how they do it and see what kind of plays they run.”
In that game, Tyler Haws, the sixth leading scorer in the country, torched the Ducks for 32 points.
Both Altman and Loyd have tons of respect for his game, especially his offensive repertoire.
“His midrange game is vicious, one dribble, two dribble pull-ups, he can get to the rack. He has the complete package.” Loyd said.
“He’s as good a offensive player that we’ve seen all year and we’ve faced some pretty good players. He can score with the best of them,” Altman added.
Though Oregon is extremely prolific offensively, scoring 81.8 ppg, BYU’s offense might be even more potent. The Cougars average 84.2 ppg.
“Both of our strengths are still going to be to get up and down the floor. We’re both going to play to our strengths,” Loyd said.
However, Kyle Collinsworth, BYU’s second leading scorer and leading rebounder, tore his ACL against Gonzaga in the WCC championship game and is out for the season. Collinsworth averaged 14 points and 8.2 rebounds per game and scored 15 points against the Ducks.
Altman believes injuries are detrimental for an entire season or a long stretch, but not for one game.
“When a guy goes out for one game, everyone is excited about picking it up. Anyone who is backing him up is really excited about the opportunity. In past experience, it really doesn’t make that much of a difference.”
The player of the game in December was Jason Calliste, Oregon’s leading scorer off the bench. Calliste had his most prolific output of the season against BYU in December, scoring 31 points.
However, he suffered a minor injury against UCLA.
“He’s a little sore but I think he’ll be okay. By Thursday I think he will be ready to go,” Altman said.
As far as location is concerned, one Duck will be going home while a few others were disappointed that the the NCAA tournament committee didn’t send Oregon to their home state.
The lucky man is none other than F Elgin Cook, who is from Milwaukee.
“I know he’s excited to play there with all of his family watching,” Oregon G Damyean Dotson said.
“I wanted to go back to Texas actually. We could’ve been a 12 seed, I just wanted to go back home,” Dotson added.
“Rich and Jason were hoping for Buffalo. Joe and Dot were hopping for San Antonio. Elgin had Milwaukee and I didn’t care,” Altman said.
In order for the Ducks to stick around for more than a few days, they must rejuvenate after a somewhat disappointing Pac-12 tournament performance.
The Ducks are coming off a loss to UCLA in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament, where they completely collapsed in the second half. Oregon was down by just two at halftime, but lost the game 82-63.
“After that loss we have a sour taste in our mouths. We feel like we didn’t have our best game and didn’t give it our all,” Loyd said.
“It was tough because we just didn’t play very well. I think that hurt them more than anything. They’ll bounce back,” Altman added.
Also, Dotson must play close to how he played in last year’s NCAA Tournament, where he averaged 17.3 ppg., and the antithesis of his performance since he recently tried to bring a fake ID into Taylor’s Bar & Grill. The Oregon guard is averaging just 5.7 ppg on 28 percent shooting in the six games since the incident.
“I just got to get in the gym and just focus. It’s gonna start with me playing defense and getting rebounds,” Dotson said.
If the Ducks defeat the Cougars, they will play the winner of No. 2 seed Wisconsin and No. 15 seed American.
Not to diminish the daunting task of defeating a tough Badgers squad, but if the Ducks do pull off the upset, and if Creighton can win as favorites in the first two rounds, Altman will coach against his former team in the Sweet 16.
“I am happy for Creighton. They’ve had a wonderful year. (Doug)McDermott, whoo, what an incredible year. I hope we do play them. That means they won and we won.”
Last year, the Ducks won the Pac-12 tournament, but were slated as a No. 12 seed. This year, they lost in the quarterfinals, but were selected as a No. 7 seed.
“The complete opposite from last year. I feel like we were disrespected last year,” Loyd said.
Still, the Ducks proved themselves last year, pulling off multiple upsets to make it to the Sweet 16.
But just because Oregon made it to the Sweet 16 last year doesn’t mean they will take an NCAA tournament birth for granted this year.
“I feel nothing but excitement. It’s a great opportunity for us,” Loyd said.
Altman has the most understandable reason to be ho-hum about the tournament, as he has already coached in nine NCAA tournaments. However, he still maintains enthusiasm.
“I hope the guys are looking forward to it. I know I am. It never gets old.”