EUGENE, Ore.,- Entering the month of December head coach Dana Altman was hopeful his team would make the necessary adjustments in preparation for the conference season.
But, following a loss to UTEP and uninspired performances against Nebraska and Houston Baptist, Altman will turn to seniors E.J. Singler, Arsalan Kazemi, Tony Woods and Carlos Emory to get his team on the right track.
“I think all of us need to take a step in the right direction,” Altman said Friday. “But our four seniors really need to get a sense of urgency. They need to make the biggest jump. Those four guys need to put the demand on their teammates.”
A year ago Altman believes the Ducks made strides following their holiday break, coming together as a unit and fixing aspects of the games that needed repair.
After last night’s first practice back, Altman fears this year’s break may have been too long, as the team was sluggish. Still, they’ll need to make the most of their time before Jan. 6 match-up with state-rival Oregon State.
Oregon concludes their non-conference season with Nevada on Monday. After starting the season just 4-4, with losses to UC-Irvine, Marshall, Drake and Pacific, the Wolfpack have turned it on, winning four straight. That streak includes a three point-win over Washington at Hec-Ed.
“They started off a little sluggish, but they’ve really picked it up. It’ll be a tough test for us. It’ll help prepare us for the conference, that’s for sure,” Altman said.
“It’s a big game for us. We’re really looking forward to it. We know that they’re a good team,” Singler said.
A big part of that turnaround has been the play of guards Deonte Burton and Malik Story. The pair has paced the Wolfpack offensively this season, leading them in scoring, often through a high quantity of shots rather than quality. In the four wins, however, Burton has shot over 50 percent from the field and the two have combined to average over eight assists per game combined.
“They are athletic and they can make offensive plays. We’ll have to play well,” Altman said.
Altman is hopefully that his team can make similar improvements with their ball movement that the duo has made for Nevada. After having averaged 12 turnovers a year ago, the Ducks are averaging over 16 this season. While Altman has stressed the importance of offensive execution all season, he’s yet to see the improvement he desired.
Altman wouldn’t single out any individuals, as 10 players average at least one per game. Improved play at the point guard position was integral, he said.
“It’s a combination of things. We’re trying to do too much, not getting the ball swung side-to-side to make the defense adjust, just making bad decisions with where to go with the ball,” Altman said.
Still undecided on how many players will be a part of the regular rotation, Altman is uncertain of how aggressive he’ll be on the defensive end. Disappointed with the efficiency of his full-court press, he is unable to commit to doing so unless he feels he has the depth and assertiveness to make it effective.
One thing he was certain of defensively is the need for improved communication. Point guard Johnathan Loyd’s effort Saturday gave Altman optimism for the team’s efforts going forward, as Loyd was very vocal.
“I’ve been trying to get us all to talk from the get go,” Loyd said. “That’s something my dad has always taught me since I was young. I try to talk as much as I can, because talking is contagious, so if one person starts it, everyone else will.”
With his scoring averaged down over four points per game, Singler sees room for personal improvement.
“Maybe my scoring numbers haven’t been there every game, but I think I’ve contributed in different areas of the game, trying to help everyone to come together. I think I’ve played well so far, but I think I can play a lot better,” he said.
Oregon plays Nevada Monday at 4 p.m. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 network, with Jim Watson and Lenny Wilkens on the call.