Freshmen will be big key to finish
Dana Altman finds it hard to get a read on his freshmen late in the season.
“They haven’t been through it before so you look for signs that they understand what we are up against,” the Oregon coach said Tuesday. “I’m not sure they realize we are going to have to really play well and awfully hard to get it done. I think their personalities will come out in these next 10 games and I hope that is enough.”
The Ducks (14-7, 4-4) have relied heavily on their four true freshmen who provide about 33 percent of the offense and 40 percent of rebounding for the Ducks as they prepare to visit California (7-15, 1-8) at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Troy Brown has started every game he’s played and was joined in the starting lineup by Kenny Wooten about six weeks ago, and Victor Bailey has been a key reserve. Abu Kigab has played in all but one game with a limited role.
“There is no questioning their talent, so I hope they are effective down the stretch,” Altman said. “The last 10 games, they have to play like veterans. They have 21 games under their belts so they need to play.”
Oregon probably needs at least eight more wins to put itself in position to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament with a schedule that looks much different during the next six weeks than it did in the first three months.
Oregon has taken two trips out of the state all season as it prepares to take conference trips to the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Washington schools before heading to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament.
“The road is a lot different,” Bailey acknowledged. “We are used to playing home games and everyone is cheering and then you run out on the road and everyone is booing you. We embrace it and have fun.”
Brown is playing 29.9 minutes per game while averaging 11.3 points and a team-best 6.7 rebounds per game. Wooten and Bailey are playing 19.9 and 17.9 minutes per game, respectively.
“We are still learning to get through things, but it hasn’t been too difficult,” Bailey said. “You feel like you are never not playing because there are so many games that run into each other, but we are getting through it.”
Bailey added that the biggest challenges are mental, not physical.
“We’re young, so our bodies are OK,” he said.
In the final seven games of December, Wooten averaged 11.1 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game. The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 4.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in six January games.
“I sure hope he gets more consistent,” Altman said. “He needs to post up more and we need to throw him the ball more, but we showed him on film his inconsistency in posting up. Guys never know when he’s going to post up. Defensively, he’s out of position a lot. I think he loses his focus a little bit. He’s like a lot of freshmen and this is the time when you have got to start playing like a sophomore and really pick it up. Hopefully he will because he has the athletic ability to really give us a boost.”
Like his former Oregon teammates, Casey Benson will be in Las Vegas for a conference tournament March 7-10 seeking a trip back to the NCAA Tournament.
The senior guard transferred to Grand Canyon University after concluding his three-year career with the Ducks in the Final Four. He returned to his home state to play for former Phoenix Suns star Dan Majerle, whose staff at GCU includes Benson’s brother, T.J.
Benson is averaging career highs with 9.5 points, 5.0 assists and 3.8 rebounds for the Antelopes, who are 15-7 overall and tied for third in the Western Athletic Conference at 4-2. The WAC will likely only send one team to the NCAA Tournament and that would be the winner of the conference tournament held at Orleans Arena during the same days as the Pac-12 Tournament at T-Mobile Arena.
Kavell Bigby-Williams, who transferred from Oregon to LSU after last season, is sitting out a year because of NCAA rules before become eligibile to play as a senior next season.
Finale time set
Oregon’s final game of the regular season at Washington on March 3 has been set for 1:30 p.m. to be televised on Pac-12 Network’s Oregon and Washington channels.
That could be the first game of a doubleheader in Seattle for the Ducks if the Oregon women’s team reaches the semifinals of the conference tournament to be played that evening at KeyArena. The championship game of the women’s tournament is Sunday, March 4, at 6 p.m.