It’s time for us to start taking Oregon seriously.
That much is obvious now that the Ducks have handed both Arizona and UCLA their only losses in the Pac-12 this season. On Saturday, Dana Altman’s team went into Pauley Pavilion and knocked off the Bruins 76-67 behind 18 points from Tony Woods and 12 points and 11 boards from Arsalan Kazemi.
And while it’s simple mathematics to say that Oregon is the best team in the Pac-12 — they’re in first place, they don’t have a loss in league play, and they have now handed Arizona their first loss of the season and beaten UCLA in Pauley — there is more to it than that.
The Ducks are the most balanced team in the conference, with five guys averaging between 10.1 points and 11.8 points. Their sixth-leading scorer, Arsalan Kazemi at 8.6 points-per-game, is also their leading rebounder, averaging 9.5 boards. They have the Pac-12’s deepest and most versatile front line, and a pair of freshmen guards in Damyeon Dotson and Dominic Artis that are as underrated as any back court in the country.
But was most impressive about their win over UCLA was the way Oregon was able to gain control by grinding it out defensively.
Much has been made of UCLA’s transition to a team that thrives in, well, transition. Ben Howland has embraced the talent level and lack of defensive desire of the players on his roster, opting to allow his blue-chip recruits to get out and run the floor at will. And in the second half, Oregon took the lead when they held the Bruin’s scoreless for more than six minutes during the second half. UCLA shot just 37.9% from the floor in the second half.
And they also happened to expose a potentially fatal flaw for the Bruins: the interior. Woods and Kazemi combined to shoot 13-16 from the field. The Wears, who played 53 minutes combined, had all of five rebounds, just two of which came on the offensive end of the floor. We knew that UCLA had some question marks with the defections in their front court. On Saturday, we got a glimpse of just how that can be exploited.
The Ducks are for real this year, and it looks like they will be here to stay.