Ducks grind it out, and it may be that way for awhile
Plenty of kinks to work out in UO coach Altman's second season
EUGENE - There weren't a lot of style points to Oregon's 73-65 victory over Eastern Washington Thursday night in the Ducks' home opener.
That kind of thing could take awhile this season.
'We have a long way to go as a team,' second-year coach Dana Altman said after the Ducks (1-1) trailed through most of the first 30 minutes before finding the winning formula against their opponent from the Big Sky Conference.
Or, as senior guard Garrett Sim put it, 'We're a little bit out of sync.'
Oregon committed 21 turnovers - 13 in the first half - and was erratic at the free-throw line, making only 28 of 44 attempts.
'Some of the same problems that plagued us at Vanderbilt' in Oregon's opening 78-64 loss, Altman noted.
'And we made a lot of defensive mistakes that let (the Eagles) get a lot of open looks,' the UO coach said. 'We didn't pay attention to the rules we set for this game.'
Eastern Washington (1-2) lost by only 77-69 at Gonzaga, and the scrappy, athletic Eagles might have pulled off the upset at Matthew Knight Arena if not for foul troubles.
Forward Collin Chiverton, who scored 25 points in each of Eastern's first two games, departed with 9:17 to go after tallying eight points in only 15 minutes. Three other Eagle starters had early exits due to disqualifications.
After leading 39-34 at halftime, by as many as nine points early in the second half and by 53-46 with 11 minutes to play, the Eagles struggled to even get a shot off down the stretch. The visitors made only eight baskets and scored 26 points in the second half - including two baskets and nine points over the final nine minutes.
Altman used seniors Sim and Tyrone Nared, junior E.J. Singler and sophomore Johnathan Loyd over that duration, with senior Jeremy Jacob the returnees from the 2010-11 squad that went 21-18 and won the College Basketball Invitational.
'At the end, Coach (Altman) went with guys who have been together,' said Loyd, the 5-8 point guard who came off the bench for nine points, three assists and three steals in 21 minutes.
'I thought we'd play a little better than we did,' Altman said, 'but we found a way to win. It just wasn't the type of performance I was hoping for.'
Oregon is minus its leading scorer and rebounder, forward Joevan Catron, plus guards Malcolm Armstead and Jay-R Strowbridge from last year's squad.
The leadership this season should come from Sim, who led the way Thursday with 17 points and four assists, and Singler, the 6-6 swing man who had a quiet night with six points and four steals in 31 minutes.
The other starters right now are forward Olu Ashaolu, a 6-7 senior forward who transferred from Lousiana Tech, where he was a second-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection last season, averaging 14.2 points and 9.4 rebounds; 6-11, 250-pound junior forward Tony Woods, a transfer from Wake Forest, and 6-5, 205-pound freshman Jabari Brown, who is still finding his way in the college game.
The 6-8 Nared - who was terrific Thursday night with 15 points, seven rebounds and perfect shooting (4 for 4 from the field, 2 for 2 from 3-point range, 5 for 5 from the line) - will be a key reserve along with Loyd, Jacob and perhaps freshman guards Brett Kingma and Bruce Barron.
Altman used 11 players against Eastern and seems comfortable with a musical-chairs approach, keeping his players fresh. The tactic help as the Ducks, who committed 20 turnovers in the first 30 minutes, had only one over the final 10 minutes. Conversely, Oregon's full-court pressure was more effective against the Eagles as the game went on.
'We just kind of wore them down throughout the game,' Sim said.
Eastern wound up with 23 more shots from the field (67 to 44) than Oregon, but the Ducks had a huge advantage at the line, where the Eagles were 12 for 20.
It was a grind, and that might be how the Ducks have to win for awhile until the new players fit the system and develop a chemistry with the returning bunch.
They'll have to take care of the ball better - 41 turnovers in two games after averaging only 12.2 giveaways last season.
And they'll have to shoot free throws more accurately than they have so far - 34 for 61 (.557).
'I don't think you can put an explanation to that,' Loyd said. 'We shoot them every day in practice and knock them down. It's just not going in right now.'
Oregon was picked fifth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, and will have some good early tests - at Nebraska next Wednesday, at home against Brigham Young on Dec. 3 and vs. Virginia on Dec. 18 - before getting to the conference portion of the season.
There's still plenty of time to get everything together, which is exactly what the Ducks need.
'We can get so much better in every facet of the game,' Altman said. 'I'm not questioning our talent; I'm questioning (the players) getting together and playing as a team ... their ability to make plays for the team. Those are the things we have to improve upon.'