LOS ANGELES- This will be a memorable weekend for Oregon basketball, two conference road wins, one over a ranked team and a retained share of the conference’s lead, but perhaps more importantly, the solidification that this program is on the rise.
In the waning moments of the first half, UCLA super-frosh Shabazz Muhammad seemed to be coming into his own. Muhammad hadn’t started for the Bruins after arriving late to Friday’s practice. But late in the half the Ducks didn’t have an answer, and Muhammad rattled off the last eight Bruins baskets.
“That’s what we decided as a team. The coaches were on us at halftime because we weren’t stopping anything and they just kept on getting lay-ups,” said forward Arsalan Kazemi.
In the second half the Ducks bageled him, holding him scoreless and providing the Ducks (16-2, 5-0) with a 76-67 victory. In the process, the Ducks ended the Bruins 10-game winning streak. The key to stopping the flashy lefty, was knocking him out of a rhythm, Altman said.
“We didn’t give him those transition baskets, like he got in the first half. He’s an awfully talented player and he just didn’t get those rhythm shots,” head coach Dana Altman said.
The defensive effort as a whole was much improved in the second half. After allowing the Bruins to shoot 55 percent in the first, Oregon held them to 38 percent in the second.
“We know that defense is going to win for us, not offense. We’re defensive-minded and that helps,” Kazemi said.
Entering the game, the Ducks knew they wanted to assert themselves in the paint, taking advantage of a small Bruin frontline, both in stature and depth. The focal point of that attack would have to be center Tony Woods. But the 6-foot-11 center was so sick that he’d missed the Friday's practice and had been quarantined in the team hotel.
“They weren’t sure [if he’d play],” Kazemi said.
“He really struggled in that first five minutes segment. I thought he was done,” Altman said.
But Woods was anything but done, as he finished with a career-best 18 points, missing just one shot on nine attempts.
“He came to the bench, got a second breath and really came back well,” Altman said. “He did some good things, guys fed him in there. We felt like we had an advantage inside.”
The Ducks also did their part on the glass, which was what Altman believed was the “difference of the game.” Oregon was especially effective on the offensive glass, grabbing 13 boards off of their misses and scoring 12 points off of those second chances.
No baskets were as fundamental in the Ducks win than Kazemi’s two putbacks in the final six minutes.
“I just tried to get good offensive position and stayed with it. That’s what happened at the end of the game, we missed two lay-ups and I was there to put it in,” said Kazemi who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Freshmen guards Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson also joined Kazemi and Woods in double figures, with 14 and 12 respectively. Dotson struggled to find his shot in the first half, perhaps trying to do too much on the big stage. But even with a 2-for-11 shooting effort, managed to make 5-of-6 free throws and a pair of crucial threes in the second.