Another tough road test awaits
TUCSON, Ariz. — Roman Sorkin saw the “Oregon mentality” return in Thursday’s 76-72 win at No. 11 Arizona State.
“We’ve always been the underdog and fought every year I’ve been here,” the senior forward said after arguably his best game as a Duck when he scored 13 points in 13 minutes.
“I know what we did last year, but we always had that mentality. I guess we got our (butt) kicked and it was a wake-up call for us. We just played as a team, that was the biggest thing.”
Oregon is the underdog again Saturday when it visits No. 17 Arizona at 11 a.m., but the Ducks arrive at McKale Center feeling better about themselves after earning their best victory of the year on the road. The Ducks are playing back-to-back road games against ranked foes for the first time since 2007.
“Any win is a good win for our team, but when there is a feeling of togetherness, you feel like you are on top of the world and you can do anything,” senior forward MiKyle McIntosh said.
Oregon (12-5, 2-2) gave its chances of reaching a sixth straight NCAA Tournament a boost by beating the Sun Devils and could move back into most bracket projections if it follows up with a win over the Wildcats (13-4), who sit tied for second in the Pac-12 at 3-1 after a 62-53 win over Oregon State that boosted its record at home to 9-0.
“We know how tough of a place that is to play and how talented they are,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said.
Oregon has less than 40 hours to get ready for a switch in styles from ASU, which has dubbed itself “Guard U” without a player taller than 6-foot-9, to the Wildcats, who will start 7-1 Deandre Ayton and 7-0 Dusan Ristic. Ayton leads the Pac-12 with 11.5 rebounds per game while ranking third with 20.0 points per game.
“You are going to have those teams that run and gun and have those teams that slow it down and work it inside,” Oregon junior forward Paul White said. “You have to be able to adjust.”
Oregon will us White and Kenny Wooten, both 6-9, with the 6-7 McIntosh against Arizona’s front line.
“Our big guys are quick, not as tall, but very quick,” McIntosh said.
It would help the Ducks if Wooten can avoid foul trouble after playing a total of 24 minutes in the last two games while collecting nine fouls. The freshman has fouled out of two of the past four games.
“We are putting him in bad spots, but he’s reaching too much,” Altman said. “We need him on the floor more than 11 minutes and 13 against Oregon State. He’s got to play more for us.”
Wooten, who is shooting 77.5 percent from the field, hit two short jumpers in the first five minutes against ASU, but did not attempt another field goal after getting three fouls in the first half and a fourth during his lone minute on the floor during the second half.
Freshman Troy Brown played only four minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls, leading Altman to go deeper into his bench than usual in the first half by playing all 11 scholarship players.
“We went into the game and I said if somebody looks tired, let me know, but we ended up playing guys extra minutes,” Altman said. “Troy was in foul trouble so we had to keep Payton (Pritchard) out there a long time. Kenny was in foul trouble so MiKyle played longer than we wanted. I was hoping to limit everyone to around 30 minutes to get guys to play hard because we have been playing guys too many minutes.”
Pritchard was on the bench for just one minute while McIntosh played 35 minutes against ASU.
Sorkin did not play in four of the previous six games with one game missed because of injury. He scored 10 points in the prior 11 games when he suited up, but scored six points in the first half Thursday and finished 5-for-8 from the field. His 13 minutes against the Sun Devils were his most since playing 24 in the opener against Coppin State.
“I was just ready,” Sorkin said. “Somebody got into foul trouble and I needed to step in and did it.”
Oregon’s 17 assists were its most in a Pac-12 game, and Altman felt there would have been more if the Ducks had hit some open shots. Altman has emphasized moving the ball better on offense all year and noted “a couple good practices where guys talked about that” this week.
“It’s January and we’ve gone over and over this stuff, at some point in time we are either going to do it or have to go in another direction,” he said of his message to the Ducks. “Our ball movement has been embarrassing and our effort at times because we are stuck in a fog. We don’t score baskets, so our energy goes down and that is true for a lot of young teams. So we hit a few baskets and got the energy back up.”