EUGENE, Ore-. Tonight four Oregon seniors will play their last minutes at Matthew Knight Arena. Head coach Dana Altman won’t begin thinking about replacing the four until after the season, as much is still at stake for the Ducks, including a Pac-12 title, but the gaps they’ll leave will be hard to plug.
Seniors E.J. Singler, Carlos Emory, Tony Woods and Arsalan Kazemi will make their farewells following tonight’s Civil War match-up with the Beavers.
On Tuesday, Altman took the time recount some of his memories of each of them. The coach touched on the athleticism and high-flying slams of Emory, the shot blocking of Woods and unselfishness and likability of Kazemi, but with a player like Singler, who is the school’s all-time winningest player, it’s hard to find a starting point, as so many exist.
Singler is one of just two Oregon natives on scholarship, the other being freshman Austin Kuemper. He’s started 83 games at Oregon, beginning his career before Altman’s time—the last branch of the Ernie Kent era at Oregon. And how about the versatility, few players find themselves nearing the school’s top-10 in points, rebounds, assists, steals, 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage.
“That’s going to hurt,” Altman said of losing Singler. “He’s been a big part of our program the three years we’ve been together. Like any coach and player, we’ve had our ups and downs, but there’s been a lot more ups than downs with E.J. I like his work ethic. I like how unselfish he is. He’s all about the team. He’s all about our school.”
It wasn’t always that way for Singler, who admitted on Tuesday that he grew up a Beaver fan, as both parents were student athletes at Oregon State. Fortunately for Duck fans, he grew out of that phase.
“As I grew older, by the time I was in middle school and high school, I favored Oregon, because I liked it better and they have better tradition and stuff like that,” he said.
Singler is 4-3 in Civil Wars during his four years with the Ducks, but is 4-1 under Altman. Perhaps no meeting between the two schools has been of more importance for Singler since he’s arrived in Eugene, as a win keeps the Ducks atop the league and a loss pushes them off it.
“This is going to be an emotional game for me, having it my last game at home and being against the Beavs. Obviously there are going to be a lot of emotions with that, but I’m just going to try and stay focused and play like it’s any other game and know what this game means for our team as a whole…” he said.
It will be no easy feat, despite a 3-12 record in Pac-12 play, Oregon State has played the majority of their conference games close. That has been especially true on the road, where each loss have come by 10 points or less.
“If you look at the scores, road, home it doesn’t matter, they’re right there. That’s a real tribute to them, to not be able to get over the hump in a few games, but to fight through,” Altman said.
Oregon State beat the Ducks at MKA last year, 76-71, behind 27 points from now departed Jared Cunningham. This year’s leading scorer Roberto Nelson was held to just six points, a repeat defensive performance on the athletic guard could prove to be paramount to an Oregon victory.
“He finds ways to score. He gets to the line. He shoots the three. He can get in the lane and initiate contact. Any time anybody gets 17 a game, they’re a threat,” Altman said.
Nelson and backcourt mate Ahmad Starks are the conference’s second most prolific three-point shooting pair (first is Arizona State’s Jonathan Gilling and Evan Gordon), while shooting a combined percentage just over 40 percent.
“Any time you’ve got Nelson and Starks, who can get going from three, it’s a dangerous team. They’ll look like they’re out of a game and then two or three threes in a row and they’re right back in it” Altman said.
The Ducks and Beavers tip off at 8 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU, with Tom Hart and Darrin Horn on the call. Oregon seniors will be honored following the conclusion of the game.