EUGENE, Ore.- Three minutes into arguably the program’s biggest game of the Dana Altman era, the head coach had to burn a timeout as his team had already allowed three big three-point shots, trailing 11-0.
Whether it was nerves, the wide-eyes of facing an undefeated foe or just defensive miscommunications, one cannot be certain, but what was clearly evident following that timeout, was that something was different. The Ducks (13-2, 2-0) went on a 16-2 run over the next 3:38, jumpstarted by Carlos Emory’s first two buckets. And when no time remained on the clock, it was the Ducks on top 70-66, handing the Arizona Wildcats (14-1, 2-1) their first loss of the season.
“Throughout the basketball games there is going to be runs. Their run just happened to be right at the start. You’ve just got to battle through those,” said senior E.J. Singler.
After an 0-for-4 start from the field, Oregon would finish the half on a 17-for-26 shooting run, capped off by excellent perimeter marksmanship. With an uncanny shooting stretch to finish the half, the Duck pushed out to an eleven-point lead at the break.
“We weren’t quite ready to start that game it looked like. Down 11-nothing right out of the shoot. But the guys really fought back,” Altman said.
Both Singler and guard Johnathan Loyd, who’ve been in Duck uniform longer than any of their teammates, agreed this was the biggest win of their careers.
“It’s pretty much indescribable. It’s a great team win. I’m just so happy our team fought at the end and got a ‘W’,” Singler said.
Altman hopes that the win doesn’t remain their biggest by season’s end.
“But, if January 10 is our high, then this team really underachieved. There is so much more that this team can grow into. I’ll be really disappointed if we don’t have a lot bigger wins this season,” he said.
The Ducks lead hovered around 10 points for the majority of the second half, dipping into single-digits on a few occasions before the Wildcats made their patented late push.
Having already beaten Florida and Colorado in come-from-behind fashion, Oregon couldn’t let their foot off the gas pedal. Unfortunately, they did just that, failing to make a field goal in the last 6:49, watching their lead dissipate to just three points with under a minute to play.
“We knew from the start that they were going to make a run for it. We just had to fight through it,” Loyd said.
Dominic Artis misfired on a three as the shot clock ran down with under twenty seconds to go and Arizona guard Nick Johnson gained possession down just three. It was then that Loyd would make his best play as a Duck, stepping in front of Johnson who was driving with a full head of steam and picking his pocket. Loyd was fouled and split a pair of free throws to ice the game.
“I saw him bringing it hard and then I saw DA (Artis) was going to cut him off. I just jumped to the side and he put it right into my hand,” Loyd said.
Singler, whose start to the season had drawn concern, played his most complete game of the season, finishing with a team-high 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Singler was especially passionate, pumping his chest and flexing throughout the evening. His energy proved contagious.
“Every time I see E.J. flex, I flex. That gets me hyped,” Loyd said.
Altman had harped on his team’s ball movement, shot selection and overall offensive play all season. Thursday they “played their best”, Singler said, as they shot 7-for-11 from three and turned it over just 12 times.
“I don’t think we rushed any three and we didn’t take any by ourselves,” he said. “It was penetrate and kick. I think we’re a really good perimeter shooting team when we do that. When we do it by ourselves we’re not.”
Largely responsible for that perimeter prowess were Artis and Emory, who combined to shoot 5-for-7 from deep, joining Singler in double figures, each with 10. Tony Woods also finished with 10.
Singler said following the game that their goal for the season wasn’t simply to beat Arizona, it was to win the Pac-12. Something they took a step closer to Thursday night.