Ducks fly all over the place at PK80
Phil Knight sure didn't do local Oregon Ducks basketball fans any favors. If the Nike co-founder really cared about the Ducks, he should have had his 80th birthday last season … or maybe next season.
Instead of a Final Four-bound team last season and a probable top-10 team next season, the Ducks at the PK80 Invitational played scattershot basketball.
The Ducks went 1-2 and needed overtime to get past a rebuilding DePaul team. While Oregon opponents spent the weekend strolling to the foul line (attempting 98 free throws over three games), Ducks individual players took turns standing next to coach Dana Altman listening to some intense instruction.
That these Ducks have a lot to learn is no surprise. Their roster has turned over almost completely since they came up just short of playing for a national championship. Payton Pritchard is the only significant returnee, and the sophomore from West Linn had an up-and-down tournament.
Pritchard was a big reason the Ducks survived DePaul, finishing with 29 points, eight assists, only two turnovers and six rebounds in Friday's win. On Sunday against Oklahoma, Pritchard had 10 points, six turnovers and five assists. He joined his teammates in reacting to Oklahoma's tough defense by trying to make things happen individually.
Learning to share was one thing on Altman's checklist after the Ducks frittered away a second-half rally in a 90-80 Sunday loss to Oklahoma at Memorial Coliseum.
"We're not getting any leadership there on the offensive end," the coach said. "Way too much dribbling. The ball's got to move. All our guards are just pounding it. And the forwards get it, and they pound it."
That's going to change, Altman promised, explaining that players who don't pass the ball and execute on offense will be watching from the bench.
A more complicated problem is the defense.
"Defensively, we're just not in the right position, not ready to play, knees aren't bent. We're always a step behind. That's one of the reasons we're fouling so much," Altman said. "We use our hands way too much. A lot of our (fouls) were using our hands. Those things are tough to correct. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of toughness to correct those."
With five freshmen and two key transfers, it makes sense that the Ducks aren't yet clicking.
"I think they're listening. They just haven't been through any adversity. It's going to take some time," Altman said. "They all want to score. We're not real excited about guarding anybody."
The Ducks (5-2) will continue the learning process at Matthew Knight Arena, where they will play five of their six remaining nonconference games. On Friday, the Ducks will play host to Boise State, which was 5-1 and averaging 80 points per game entering a Tuesday contest against Loyola (Illinois).
One suddenly intriguing game is the Dec. 13 visit to Eugene from Portland State. The Vikings were one of the fun stories at PK80, pushing top-ranked Duke and Butler and then beating Stanford.
PSU will play much of this season out of the limelight. Its home games are at Lewis & Clark while Viking Pavilion construction continues. But first-year coach Barret Peery expects the same whirling-dervish approach from his team anytime, anywhere.
"Be very clear: We don't care where we play," Peery said. "We talk about that every day. We practice in a building that's not even finished. We play in a non-home home court. We're never going to get caught up in anything other than we don't care where we play, we just care about the way that we play and trying to win.
"We could play at an elementary school, we're going to be the same all the time."
The Vikings employing their all-out pressure in a small grade-school gym? Imagine the big-time chaos they would create.
• Gonzaga's Silas Melson, a senior guard from Jefferson High, is starting and doing well for the Bulldogs, who went 2-1 at the PK80.
The Zags improved to 5-1 with wins of 86-59 over Ohio State and 76-71 in overtime against Texas. They lost 111-105 to Florida in two OTs.
The 6-4, 195-pound Melson, a three-year letterman, started four games last season as Gonzaga made the NCAA final.
His numbers have improved steadily while with the Zags: He averaged 3.2 points in 9.6 minutes per game as a freshman, 6.6 points in 21.7 minutes as a sophomore and 7.2 points in 23.8 minutes last season. He had 10 assists in 2014-15, 30 the following season and 58 as a junior.
In the first six games of this season, he averaged 10.2 points in 32.5 minutes, with 20 assists (and a ateam-high 11 steals).
Melson "plays and possesses all those Zag qualities that go all the way back 20 years through this run," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "He's not a big rah-rah guy. He's not a loud guy. But he is the essence of what our program is all about. He is selfless. He gives you great effort, and he's not afraid."
• Small-college update: Portland teams begin conference play this weekend, with women's games followed by men's games at most venues.
Lewis & Clark's teams open play in the NCAA Division III Northwest Conference with games on Friday at Willamette and on Monday at home against Pacific. The Pioneer men are 1-3 entering conference play, the women 4-2.
In the NAIA Division II Cascade Collegiate Conference, Warner Pacific plays host to Evergreen State on Friday and to Northwest University on Saturday. Multnomah plays host to Northwest on Friday and to Evergreen State on Saturday before visiting Warner Pacific on Tuesday. The WPC men are 5-3. The WPC women are 2-6. The Multnomah men were 2-4 before visiting Pacific Lutheran on Tuesday. The Lions play a noncounter at the University of Portland on Thursday. The Multnomah women are 0-8.