Mike Moser

Richard Amardi

Is No. 7 Oregon heading for another surprise NCAA Tournament run?

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MILWAUKEE — After No. 7 seed Oregon’s 87-68 win over No. 10 seed BYU on Thursday, the Ducks’ locker room wasn’t the typical scene you would expect after a big Oregon win.

Milwaukee-native Elgin Cook had a career game of 23 points and eight rebounds so the television cameras and reporters in the locker room crowded around the redshirt sophomore reserve forward as Oregon’s starters mostly sat around waiting to be addressed by reporters.

“Elgin was definitely the player of the game. He really gave this home crowd something to take home with them,” Oregon senior forward Mike Moser said. “You could say it’s kind of a surprise, but we see him every day and he’s one of the most athletic guys on the team so when we see him take the ball and dunk it on somebody’s head, it doesn’t surprise us. It’s more of, ‘It’s about time.'”

With reserves like Cook stepping up for a deep Oregon team, is it about time for the Ducks to make another surprise NCAA Tournament run?

The Ducks advanced to the Sweet 16 as a No. 12 seed last season after winning the Pac-12 Conference Tournament, and Oregon appears to be peaking at the right time heading into Saturday’s game against No. 2 seed Wisconsin in the West Regional’s Round of 32.

Performances like the one Cook had against BYU — in which Moser sat most of the second half with foul trouble and the Ducks shot only 2-for-13 from the three-point line after shooting 39 percent as a team this season — show why this Ducks team is once again a major threat to win multiple games in March. Oregon didn’t come close to bringing its ‘A’ game and still easily got past BYU on Thursday. The Ducks flew to the ball for most of the game, got 49 bench points and generally looked the part of a team that wants to make a statement in March.

“It’s definitely special, but it wouldn’t mean a thing if we didn’t get the win,” Cook said. “I think our guards did a good job of getting in the middle of the BYU zone and they found where I was comfortable at. My role is to come in, continue to play hard and play Oregon basketball and play as a team.”

Since an early February swing in which the Ducks lost by a combined total of four points to NCAA Tournament teams, Arizona and Arizona State, Oregon has rattled off nine wins in its last 10 games, with its only loss coming to 2014 Pac-12 Conference Tournament champion UCLA.

Ten different players played at least 23 games, and averaged 10-plus minutes a game for Oregon this season, so it doesn’t matter to the Ducks if a player like Moser gets in foul trouble in the second half of an NCAA Tournament game. Oregon’s players have the confidence that someone else will step in and fill the void.

“I was getting back loose and getting ready (to come back in), but thankfully we had guys step up and really close the game out,” Moser said of being on the sidelines in the second half. “I told them to just keep playing, even up 20. (At that point) I’m just a coach, (telling them to) just keep playing, play your heart out and don’t let them come back.”

Cook downplayed his special hometown performance on Thursday, a performance that included his mother appearing on the Bradley Center jumbotron smiling ear-to-ear and the sophomore getting a standing ovation from the Oregon faithful when he exited the game.

The sophomore didn’t know how many family and friends came out to see him play on Thursday, but said, “my phone is going crazy right now,” as he occasionally looked down at the white iPhone buzzing in his hand.

Oregon appears pretty comfortable in Milwaukee at the moment, even as a sea of Wisconsin red stuck around to see to see the Ducks dismantle BYU. Oregon will basically be playing a road game at Kohl Center East on Saturday against No. 2 seed Wisconsin, but that didn’t seem to faze them much after the game.

“I feel if we get stops and we can rebound it won’t be a slow-paced game (like Wisconsin wants),” Moser said of facing Wisconsin. “If that happens, we can impose that will that we want to run.”

With reserves like Cook stepping up for Moser and solid guard play from Joseph Young, Jason Calliste, Johnathan Loyd and Dominic Artis, the Ducks are confident heading into Saturday’s game against Wisconsin.

“The only thing that matters right now is that we continue to win,” Cook said. “I’ve never played at this level, so it’s definitely special, but it matters more if we win games.”

Oregon’s big win over No. 3 Arizona caps impressive regular season turnaround

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After beginning the season 13-0 Oregon went through an incredible rough patch, starting Pac-12 play 3-8 and looking nothing like the team that managed to run and gun its way into the top ten of the national rankings. They weren’t particularly good defending on the perimeter, and offensively the pieces just didn’t seem to fit as they did during much of non-conference play.

Head coach Dana Altman clearly had some questions to answer, and by the looks of that 3-8 stretch the solutions did not appear to be readily available. Oregon (22-8, 10-8) would prove that assumption to be incorrect, closing the regular season with seven straight wins after beating No. 3 Arizona 64-57 in Eugene. And as a result of that victory, the Ducks will head to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 tournament next week in very good shape with regards to making the NCAA tournament.

The difference on Saturday afternoon was simple: Oregon has more capable perimeter shooters than Arizona. The Ducks made ten of their nineteen shots from beyond the arc, outscoring the Wildcats (2-for-11 3PT) by a margin of 30-6  on three-point shots. Senior Jason Calliste was responsible for four of those makes, and his fourth shot gave Oregon a 56-51 lead with 3:43 remaining. That shot was part of a 16-4 run, turning a 50-45 deficit into a 61-54 lead with just over a minute left in the game.

Even with Arizona’s (28-3, 15-3) lack of consistent perimeter shooting, the Wildcats still entered the game ranked third in the Pac-12 in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. Their ability to hurt teams on the offensive glass while also taking care of the basketball two reasons for this, but against Oregon the Wildcats weren’t able to take advantage of their athleticism on the boards. Arizona scored just eight second-chance points, which matched Oregon’s output in that statistical category.

During this 7-0 stretch Oregon has looked like a team more comfortable in its roles, with Calliste, Johnathan Loyd and Joseph Young seeing the majority of the minutes on the perimeter and Mike Moser posting a double-double in four straight games. Moser’s improvement has been one of the biggest reasons for the turnaround, as he’s reached double digits in all seven games. Doesn’t seem like a big deal? Well, during that 3-8 run Moser reached double figures in five of those 11 games.

Instead of having a plethora of players receiving minutes Oregon’s pared things down some, and that has worked to their benefit. And now that the Ducks have a good grasp on who they are and where they’re most effective, Oregon’s playing its best basketball at just the right time.

Oregon finds a way to pick up needed victory at UCLA (VIDEO)

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When news broke just a couple hours before Thursday’s game that UCLA guards Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams were suspended one game for a violation of team rules, it seemed to be a formality that Oregon would pick up a much-needed victory. Sure the Bruins still had some talented players available, but to expect UCLA to be a threat after losing its top two scorers seemed to be a bit much.

But that wasn’t the case, with UCLA putting up a greater fight than most expected and Oregon seemingly doing its best to make sure the Bruins hung around. After getting off to a good start offensively the Ducks slowed down in the second half, with UCLA’s 2-3 zone factoring into the issues experienced by Dana Altman’s team. Given the number of quality guards at Altman’s disposal this wasn’t the expectation, but far too often the Ducks failed to attack the middle of the UCLA zone.

And then there were the final seconds of regulation, with the Ducks losing track of David Wear after a Joseph Young free throw with 1.3 seconds remaining. After Young made the shot he was looking to miss Travis Wear fired a strike to his twin brother, with David knocking down the 30-footer as time expired. Oregon would have to work five more minutes of the win, and after the two teams combined to score four points in the first extra session five more.

Ultimately Young (26 points) and Mike Moser (12 points, 20 rebounds and five assists) would lead the Ducks to the 87-83 double overtime win, keeping alive their hopes of getting hot and earning a spot in the NCAA tournament. Oregon was able to win not only because of their outlasting UCLA, but also their advantages in points off turnovers and second-chance points. Oregon converted 11 UCLA turnovers into 18 points (+11 advantage) and rebounded 39.5% of their missed shots, scoring 17 second-chance points (+12).

Of course those are two areas in which Anderson and Adams have been so influential this season, as they’re also UCLA’s top two rebounders and Anderson the leader in assists. Oregon did much of its work in these areas early, leading by as much as 15 early in the second half. But the Ducks’ ability to make things difficult on themselves has been a theme of sorts in the majority of their conference games, and that was once again the case on Thursday night.

However given Oregon’s status as a bubble team it’s the result that matters. Some will look to add an asterisk of sorts to this result given the absence of Anderson and Adams, and while this would be fair it isn’t Oregon’s fault that they were suspended. Regardless of who was on the court for UCLA, Oregon had to get the win regardless of how long it took. And after fifty minutes of basketball, the Ducks accomplished that task.

Defensive struggles to blame for No. 10 Oregon’s loss at Colorado

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No. 10 Oregon entered Sunday’s game at No. 20 Colorado as one of the nation’s best offensive teams, averaging more than 89 points per game and shooting better than 50% from the field. With options such as Damyean Dotson, Joseph Young and Mike Moser (just to name three) at Dana Altman’s disposal, the Ducks have proven to be an incredibly difficult team to slow down.

The Ducks may not have shot as well as they’re accustomed to, making 42% of their field goals in the 100-91 loss in Boulder, but the biggest issue for Oregon was a simple one: they couldn’t get stops.

Just a few days removed from shooting 38% in their Pac-12 opener on Thursday night, Colorado shot 56% from the field and attempted 39 free throws (making 33) on Sunday afternoon. With Askia Booker (27 points, four assists) and Spencer Dinwiddie (23 points, seven assists) attacking from the perimeter and Josh Scott (15 points, 12 rebounds) inside, Colorado posted a season-best efficiency of 134.0 against Oregon. Prior to Sunday the worst performance from Oregon in this regard came in their 115-105 overtime win at Ole Miss, with the Rebels finishing the game with an offensive efficiency of 116.7 (efficiency numbers per statsheet.com).

It’s great to be able to rack up points, and Colorado certainly deserves credit for its performance, but more times than not the difference between being a “contender” and a “champion” is the ability to get stops. Oregon was unable to do so in Boulder, and the end result was their first loss of the season.

However, for as poorly as the Ducks defended on Sunday one positive to take from the defeat is the fact that Mike Moser snapped out of his two-game slump. Through 13 games at Oregon Moser’s approached the numbers he put up in his first season at UNLV (2011-12), averaging 13.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, and on Sunday he was their most productive player.

Moser accounted for 24 points and seven rebounds on the night, shooting 9-for-15 from the field and posing matchup problems for much of the game. After a two-game stretch in which he scored a total of nine points while shooting 4-for-12 from the field, Moser was aggressive in looking for his shots from all over the court against Colorado. Damyean Dotson and Joseph Young added 16 points apiece for the Ducks, who will need Moser to remain aggressive offensively if they’re to be at their best on that end.

Oregon’s going to be fine despite losing; they’re 13-1 on the season and the Ducks certainly have the pieces needed to win the Pac-12. If anything, Sunday’s result served as a reminder of what steps they’ll need to take defensively in order to make good on that potential.

No. 15 Oregon remains undefeated but has yet to reach its full potential

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When the suspensions of point guard Dominic Artis and forward Ben Carter were announced, the question was whether or not No. 18 Oregon would drop a game (or more) without the services of their starting floor general. But the fact of the matter was that Dana Altman has multiple perimeter options at his disposal, including the experienced Johnathan Loyd, who made critical plays down the stretch to push the Ducks past Illinois in Portland by the final score of 71-64.

Loyd knocked down a critical jumper with 28 seconds remaining, and his steal and layup with four seconds remaining ruled out any chance of an Illinois miracle come back. Loyd finished with 11 points and seven assists, one of five Oregon players to score in double figures. Mike Moser and Joseph Young scored 14 apiece, and as a team the Ducks shot 55.2% from the field.

But with the incomplete roster now whole with the suspensions for Artis and Carter coming to an end, it’s safe to say that we have yet to see the best from Oregon. The question: will Oregon be able to incorporate Artis and Carter into the rotation without skipping a beat?

Artis will join a front court rotation that’s performed very well with Loyd, Young Jason Calliste and Damyean Dotson handling the majority of the minutes. Artis’ return give Oregon yet another primary ball-handling option, and that has the potential to make them an even tougher team to defend. Entering Saturday Oregon ranked fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per kenpom.com, and they were third in effective field goal percentage.

As for Carter, he’ll provide additional depth to a front court that can use it. Moser and Elgin Cook have played the best basketball of the big men through nine games, and Oregon has Richard Amardi and Waverly Austin receiving minutes as well. Artis and Carter will be able to play beginning on Tuesday night against UC Irvine, and they’ll have a total of three games to play before the start of Pac-12 play on January 4 against Utah.

Given how Oregon’s performed without that tandem, there won’t be as much pressure on them when they step on the floor. And if the on-court chemistry isn’t upset, Oregon stands to be even better than they are now.

Johnathan Loyd’s steady hand propels No. 13 Oregon to a win at Ole Miss

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When it was announced that starting point guard Dominic Artis was one of two players (forward Ben Carter being the other) suspended nine games for a violation of NCAA rules, there wasn’t a great deal of consternation amongst those who follow the Oregon Ducks. Why? There’s still plenty of talent at Dana Altman’s disposal in the backcourt, with his most seasoned player also being the one who’s the most overlooked.

That would be senior point guard Johnathan Loyd, who won MVP honors at last season’s Pac-12 tournament and has been a steady influence for a team filled with contributors who played their basketball at other schools in 2012-13. And in the 13th-ranked Ducks’ 115-105 overtime win at Ole Miss on Sunday night Loyd put together one of the best games of his career, racking up 25 points and 15 assists with just four turnovers.

Marshall Henderson’s career-high 39 points paced the Rebels, who shot 15-for-35 from beyond the arc. A Jarvis Summers contested three-pointer with less than a second remaining sent the game into overtime, but Ole Miss’ leading scorer struggled for much of the night before finishing with 12 points.

Loyd was one of six Ducks to score in double figures and the seventh player to score, forward Richard Amardi, finished the game with nine points. Of those six players four weren’t Ducks last season, including forward Mike Moser (25 points, ten rebounds) and guard Joseph Young (19 points). While that certainly doesn’t guarantee chemistry issues it does make the presence of a veteran figure important, and Loyd has been that player for Oregon and that’s unlikely to change when Artis returns to action on December 17 against UC Irvine whether the senior continues to start or not.

Those transfers have the talent needed to lead the Ducks, who are expected to contend for the Pac-12 title, a long way but in order to do so the entire team will need to do a better job on the boards. Oregon broke even with the Rebels but Ole Miss grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, managing to grab nearly 35% of their missed shots, and outscored the Ducks 20-5 in second chance points. That didn’t result in a loss in Oxford, but this is an area Oregon will need to address in the final games before the start of Pac-12 play.

Offensively this is one of the best teams in the country, especially with Moser (scoring 23 of his 25 in the second half and overtime) looking to be back at the level he played at in his first season at UNLV and their three-headed attack in the backcourt. But while many count down the days until Artis is eligible to return to the court, don’t overlook what Johnathan Loyd’s provided in his absence.

Loyd’s been one of the most-improved players in the Pac-12, and that development is one reason why the Ducks will be a contender for conference supremacy.