Oregon Ducks

DB coach John Neal reflects on his time at Oregon, his future, Helfrich's firing and 'Win the Day'

DB coach John Neal reflects on his time at Oregon, his future, Helfrich's firing and 'Win the Day'

John Neal isn't bitter and he isn't angry.

Granted, the defensive backs coach isn't exactly pleased that Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens decided to fire coach Mark Helfrich on Tuesday. Neal would have liked to have seen Helfrich and the rest of the coaching staff get a chance to turn things around following a 4-8 season. But Neal also said he understands how the coaching game works. Firings are a part of the business. Tough decisions need to be made. 

“I’m not one of the ones that is surprised," Neal said. "I’m not ill-prepared, either. You have to win games and you have to produce.”

For 12 out of 14 seasons at Oregon, Neal was a part of a coaching staff that under three head coaches produced great success. During the last eight seasons, Oregon made two trips to the national championship game, claimed four conference titles and won two Rose Bowls. 

Most of all, however, Neal said he will remember working with so many great coaches, and building great relationships with players that will last a lifetime. 

“That’s what I’m most happy about in my time at Oregon," Neal said. "I’ve received a lot of feedback from a lot of my players just thanking me for everything that’s happened here. Ultimately, it’s about relationships.”

--- Reflecting on the positives

It took only the program's second losing season in 12 years to end a legacy that stretched from Rich Brooks to Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly and then to Helfrich. All are linked through a chain of successions from within. For the first time in 40 years, Oregon has fired a head coach. There is a chance that a new coach could retain some of Oregon's assistants, but it appears obvious that most, which includes some who have been at Oregon for more than 25 years, if not all will be gone. 

Rather than lament on the end, Neal accepts his part in the rise and the downfall. 

Neal recruited and developed many great defensive backfields. Several of his former players reached the NFL, including Patrick Chung, T.J. Ward, Jairus Byrd, Terrance Mitchell and Walter Thurmond. 

The past couple of seasons, however, have seen a dip in production out of Neal's group, and the rest of the defense. Hurting the situation has been missing out on some quality prospects such as Washington's Budda Baker.

Whether or not the staff deserved a mulligan is neither here nor there for Neal. He said he readily shares in the blame for the team's fall from grace. 

“I look at myself and I know I could have done better in a lot of ways,” Neal said.

Neal said that he would always reflect kindly on working at such a great place for so long and being a part of the greatest run of success in program history. Now, at 60, Neal said he gets an opportunity, albeit forced, to stop, reflect and decide what his next move should be. His religious faith, Neal, said leads him to believe that good things will happen for him. 

If the chance arises, he would love to interview for a position with the next Oregon head coach. If that doesn't work out, Neal said he would look for other opportunities. 

“I absolutely have to keep every option open that I have,” Neal said.

Some have questioned how Mullens handled the firing of Helfrich. Instead of informing him on Sunday, Mullens waited until Tuesday while the assistants were already out recruiting. Neal said the "how" is not important to him. He said he understands and respects that the Mullens is making what he believes to be the right choice for Oregon. 

“I don’t care how it was handled," Neal said. "The bottom line is that you’ve got to do the right things. If the right thing takes time, it takes time. It’s not personal...I don’t blame anybody.”

Neal said all coaches live with the constant fear of being fired at any moment. It could be for a personality conflict, or for breaking a rule, or simply because someone simply wanted to make a change. 

"National championship game, or not, the feeling is, 'I've got to do it again,'" Neal said. "You have that constant motivation to try to keep this standard going...We live in a world of constant pressure. The pressure from winning is the same as when you lose."

--- Reflecting on 'Win the Day'"

Neal remembers how bad things were after the 2006 season when the Ducks finished 7-6 after getting destroyed by BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl under Bellotti. 

“There was very, very high probably I could lose my job," Neal said. "Mike might have had to fire people."

Instead, the coaching staff set out to fix the problems by exploring all ideas from all avenues.  Neal said Bellotti allowed anyone and everyone to chime in on how to turn things around. 

It was then that Neal reached out to BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, one of his former players, to discuss his team's strong culture. That led to a more day-to-day focus that manifested itself into the "Win the Day" mantra under Kelly, who took over for Bellotti in 2009 after serving as offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008. 

"That was the beginning of the cultural turn around," Neal said. 

Neal was a big part of the creation of that mindset, which led to a lot of success. The Ducks contended for a national title in 2007 before quarterback Dennis Dixon, a Heisman Trophy favorite, went down with a knee injury. 

“That was the greatest experience of my life because I got to be extremely and heavily involved in what ultimately came down to Chip Kelly saying 'let’s win the day,'" Neal said. 

Kelly, Neal said, is a one-of-a-kind coach.

“Kelly is a standard I’ll never get to work with again,” Neal said.

The team-wide mantra has somewhat eroded in recent years, Neal said.

Mullens, while announcing Helfrich's firing, referred to a lack of attention to detail and program direction for reasons to make a coaching change.

Neal said the bottom line is that the further away Oregon moved from the past it becomes more and more difficult to get new players and coaches to fully buy into the established culture.

Those who weren't there when it all began were tougher and tougher to get onboard. New assistants who hadn't experience that culture shift and new players had no reference point. If things went south, some who hadn't experienced the previous magic would question the philosophies. 

"Believers are the ones who were there and went through the (creation) of it all," Neal said. 

His biggest fear, Neal said, was losing that momentum.

“The minute momentum changes it starts rolling back on you,” he said.

Negative momentum rolled right over Oregon this season. 

--- Oregon's future remains bright

Neal believes Helfrich and this staff could have fixed the problems and returned the program to glory. He also believes a new coaching staff could accomplish the same. 

“No doubt," he said. "Everything is there to win. We have infrastructure. We have the fan base.”

The first step is becoming consistently competitive again. Oregon had a very young team and was beset by injuries this season. That contributed to Oregon getting blown out by Washington, USC and Stanford. 

Neal said dealing with Washington, coached by Chris Petersen, in the Pac-12 North Division is going to be tough for the Ducks moving forward. 

"I looked at Washington two years ago and went 'oh crap.'" he said. "In two years this team is going to be scary. Chris Petersen is going to go down as one of the top 10 football coaches in history."

Recruiting to Eugene will always be a challenge, but Neal said the elements remains there to be successful.

“I still think it’s extremely attractive," he said of UO. "I think it’s a remarkable deal in the sense of marketing and having your product be the best out there.”

However, not having a ton of regional talent to choose from does hurt.

“You’re going to lose in geography," Neal said, "but you can win in personality and what they believe your saying to them." 

 

The one that ALMOST got away...Ducks edge Bruins

screen_shot_2018-01-21_at_1.20.45_am.png

The one that ALMOST got away...Ducks edge Bruins

How Oregon won: A win is a win no matter how ugly. The Oregon Ducks got it done tonight. But it didn't come easy and at times, fearful. Oregon had the lead up by 18 points early in the second half. Slowly but surely, the UCLA Bruins began to chip away. Could this happen once again? Would it be the third game in a row where the Ducks have a lead coming down the stretch and gave it away? It was beginning to feel like deja vu for the staff, players, and 12,364 fans at Matthew Knight Arena. With just under five minutes remaining, UCLA went on a 10-0 run to bring the score to 88-87, Oregon lead, 1:09 to go. UCLA calls a timeout with :12 seconds to go, Oregon coach Dana Altman gathers his team and decides to foul the Bruins so they would have to earn their points and the Ducks can regain control of the tempo Risky that it may be, but a risk that paid off. The Ducks (13-7, 3-4 Pac-12) rode their three point lead off perfect 4-of-4 free throw shooting from sophomore guard Payton Pritchard to a 94-91 win over UCLA (13-7, 4-4 Pac-12) in Matthew Knight Arena.

"They [UCLA] were shooting it so well from three," said Altman. "They had so many guys out there that can hit three's. It wasn't like we could shift our defense to one guy. You go right down their roster, the guys they had in there were all shooters. So I just felt like it was our best chance hoping we could get the ball to Payton or Elijah [Brown] who are extremely good free throw shooters and just felt this was the best way for us to finish it out."

What it means: Oregon started this game probably the best so far this season and entered halftime up 52-38. Three Oregon players scored in double figures in just the first half: Pritchard with 10 points, senior Miklye McIntosh with 12 points, and freshman Victor Bailey Jr., coming off the bench and creating some energy, shot 5-of-6 from the field scoring 15 points. If the Ducks can figure out how to start every game like that, with high intensive defensive pressure and swift offensive ball movement, and somehow carry that momentum over into the second half, maybe just maybe they can develop a comfortable lead and keep it to the end.

McIntosh said, "We understood the last four minutes of the last few games were not our best. But we understood that if we trust in our abilities and trust our coaches and understand that we can go out there and just play and not really worry about things, then we'll get the job done. As ugly as it may be, a win is a win. As long as we go out there and play hard and try not to make too many mistakes, then we'll be fine."

Two battles were additionally won tonight: the Ducks scored 18 second chance points, which shows hustle and offensively crashing boards. And 19 assists with only eight turnovers, demonstrating the improving ball movement and making plays for one another.

High flying Ducks: Pritchard lead all scored with 25 points off 5-for-8 from three-point range. McIntosh and Bailey Jr. finished with 18 points. Freshman Troy Brown Jr., who seemed to find his groove again, finished with 17 points, five assists, and crucial rebounds down the stretch. 

Foul play: Oregon committed 25 team fouls collectively. Junior Paul White fouled out.

Up next: The Ducks host Oregon State in the second chapter of the Civil War at 5 PM (PT) this Saturday, January 27th, at Matthew Knight Arena.

Could you ask for anything more from a Civil War?

img_4266.jpg

Could you ask for anything more from a Civil War?

How Oregon lost: If the Civil War taught us one thing, it's that Sunday is going to be fun. Because that is exactly when these two teams will meet again. This match up was a thrill from start to finish that had 6,704 screaming fans on their feet. The Ducks had no answer early when the Beavers hit their first 7-for-7 shots from three-point range and quickly had to dig out of a 10-point hole. Helping Oregon climb out was sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu who finished and lead all scores with 35 points and six assists. With time windind down and a three point Oregon State lead, the Ducks found their sure-handed Ionescu, not afraid to take the big shot, absolutely drilled a three-pointer to bring this game into overtime. The crowd stunned, the Ducks bench going wild, and five more glorious minutes were to be played at Gill Coliseum Friday night. 

In the end, Oregon looked like it ran out of gas. It's five starters each played over 35 minutes, with Ionescu and junior guard Maite Cazorla playing the full game and all of overtime. Oregon State controlled the ball and got good looks to finish off the Ducks 85-79 and keep their win streak over Oregon alive to 14 games in a row.

"It was a good basketball game, both teams played with a lot of intensity and a lot of heart," said Oregon coach Kelly Graves. "God dang one of these days, I'd like to beat the Beavers for crying out loud. They got a good team, no doubt about it. Gulich [Marie] was great, Tudor [Kat] tonight, I mean come on that kid was unconscious. The good thing is we get them in two days, I guess. And that's also the bad thing..."

What it means: Before tipoff, it was announced that senior guard Lexi Bando is out indefinitely with a leg injury. Graves said he doens't know anything about her diagnosis or timetable of return and chooses to leave that up to the doctors. So Oregon decided to go with a bigger lineup with 6'-5" sophomore forward Mallory McGwire. McGwire had to shake some nerves in the first quarter, but really stepped up in the second half finishing with a near double-double 10 points and nine rebounds. 

Oregon will face Oregon State again in just about 40 hours. How much change to the game plan can there be in just that short amount of time?

Graves said, "I think I did a poor job tonight in we became too predictable down the stretch. Well, so did they, we both go to our bread and butter late. I thought we were going to get them in overtime, had the momentum obviously and just didn't make the plays."

These teams are so evenly matched that it is just a recipe for a good game. 6' 5" Marie Gulich vs. 6' 4" Ruthy Hebard on the inside. Hot shooters Kat Tudor vs. Sabrina Ionescu on the outside. Tudor lead all Beavers' scores with 34 points off 10-for-14 from the field and 7-of-10 from three-point range. Tough guard play from Mikayla Pivec vs. Maite Cazorla. Match ups everywhere.

High flying Ducks: Only three Ducks to score in double figures tonight: Ionescu with 35, Hebard finished with 24 points and seven rebounds, and McGwire with 10. Ionescu and Hebard were the only Oregon players who shot free throws tonight.

Foul play: Oregon committed 19 total teams fouls. McGwire fouled out of the game in overtime.

Up next: Another Civil War in about 40 hours. Oregon hosts Oregon State at 5 PM (PT) on Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena.  

 

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 2)...: RB Tony Brooks-James emerges

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 2)...: RB Tony Brooks-James emerges

Oregon's promising 2017 season ended with a wild two weeks that saw Willie Taggart depart for Florida State, coach Mario Cristobal take over the program, recruits decommit left and right and then the Ducks fall flat during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Still, the 2018 season could see Oregon return to Pac-12 prominence. That is, if a lot of variables play out in the Ducks' favor. We will take a position-by-position look at the team to discuss what must happen in order for Oregon to rise again in 2018. 

Other position entries: Quarterback

---

Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 2)...: RB Tony Brooks-James emerges. 

Key departures: Senior Royce Freeman moved on to the NFL after breaking nearly every school record imaginable.  Versatile senior backup Kani Benoit is also gone.  

Projected 2017 starter: Tony Brooks-James, RSr., (5-9, 175),

Key backups: Darrian Felix, Soph., (5-11, 178); C.J. Verdell, RFr., (5-8, 192); Taj Griffin, Sr., (5-11, 178); Cyrus Habibi-Likio, RFr., (6-0, 208). 

What we know: Freeman is gone. Let's all take a moment to reflect on his greatness.

Now, let's take a moment to reflect on what his absence could mean for Oregon.

Yikes!

Then toss in the loss of Benoit. 

Double yikes!

Oregon hasn't lost this much running back talent in one offseason since maybe ever. But, in typical Oregon tradition, there is a potentially great running back waiting in the wings. 

Brooks-James has rushed for 1,557 yards in his career on 226 carries (5.9 per carry) and has scored 14 rushing touchdowns. If he managed to put up those same numbers in one season, the Ducks will be in business. 

Essentially, Oregon needs Brooks-James to become the next Kenjon Barner, who after backing up LaMichael James for three seasons, rushed for 1,767 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior in 2012. 

What we don't know: Can Brooks-James be that guy? And, will he truly need to?

At a listed 178 pounds, it might be a lot to ask of James to carry the ball 20 times per game and survive the season. If he isn't up to the task, the Ducks do have options, albeit of the unproven variety. 

Felix saw minimal time as a freshman and gained 182 yards. The real wild card is Verdell, who by all accounts is the next great UO running back in waiting. He redshirted in 2017 due to injuries and ample depth already in place. 

We can't ignore Griffin, who was moved to wide receiver last season but still received some carries. He has 848 career rushing yards in his career on 6.1 yards per carry. 

Habibi-Likio has a lot of ground to make up on the depth chart in order to crash the rotation next season. But he does offer more bulk at 208 pounds than every other running back, except maybe Verdell, who packs 192 pounds on his 5-8 frame.  

What must happen for Oregon to contend: Clearly, Oregon must be able to run the ball well in order to succeed. Ideally, the Ducks will have a clear No. 1 back, and that man should be Brooks-James. But he doesn't have to match the level of play displayed in the past by the likes of Jonathan Stewart, James, Barner or Freeman. Brooks-James could simply be what Byron Marshall was in 2013 when he rushed for 1,068 yards and 14 touchdowns while Thomas Tyner chipped in 711 rushing yards and De'Anthony Thomas went for 594. 

If Oregon gets that type of production out of its top three running backs in 2018, the Ducks will be just fine. 

Next up: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 3)...: Someone compliments WR Dillon Mitchell. 

Deja vu for the young Ducks; let another slip away late

usatsi_10551307.jpg

Deja vu for the young Ducks; let another slip away late

How Oregon lost: This was a battle from start to finish. Oregon fell into a 16-6 hole early due to not blocking out and USC getting offensive rebounds. But the Ducks fought their way back to a 36-35 Trojan lead at halftime. From then on it was back-and-forth. With five minutes to go in the game, it started to feel like deja vu from Arizona. Could the Ducks finally finish strong and pull out a win with just a small four-point lead as time winded down? Alas, it did not happen. The chemistry and leadership of a much older, more mature USC team outlasted the Ducks. Oregon (12-7, 2-4 Pac-12) ends its 14-game win streak against USC and falls at home to the Trojans (14-6, 5-2 Pac-12) 75-70 in Matthew Knight Arena.

"They [the losses] are all frustrating. I just think we are a better team," Oregon coach Dana Altman siad. "I'm disappointed in myself because we are not performing at the level that I think we should be performing at. For whatever reason, we haven't been able to get our guys to buy into the things that we think are really important. So, it's frustrating for everybody. We had a long streak over these guys and we should have continued it. And we've lost three ball games at home. I think that's the highest since we've opened up the building. So it's frustrating, but we just have to fight through it. Everybody is judged by how you handle adversity. We are going to have to do a better job of handling some adversity."

Oregon sophomore guard Payton Pritchard led all Oregon scores with 18 points and seven assists, but in the closing minutes, he missed his final four shots. "Last two games we are up with four minutes left and we are not finishing," Pritchard said. "We are not getting the rebounds we need to, we are not... we are just doing the little things wrong."

What it means: This is the second game that Altman has mentioned the team not "buying in" to what the coaches think is important. Could one of these things be rebounding? USC beat Oregon badly on the boards, 36-26 with 13 of those coming at the offensive end. Another point is finishing games. Is not being able to finish against Arizona and USC solely derived from inexperience or is it the result of ignoring Altman, or a little bit of both? The last possessions for Oregon did not look good: falling down on drives, bad passes, bad fouls, and not making plays for one another.

"Right now we are only playing 36 minutes," Pritchard said. "We got to play 40 minutes."

Oregon has another huge test this upcoming Saturday against UCLA at home.

High flying Ducks: Four Oregon players scored in double figures tonight. Led by Pritchard's 18, junior forward Paul White scored 14 points off the bench, freshman Troy Brown Jr., finished with 12 points and five assists, and senior Mikyle McIntosh finished with a double-double 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Foul play: The Ducks committed 24 total team fouls compared to USC's 11. Pritchard fouled out with under a mintue to go, McIntosh and senior guard Elijah Brown finished with four foul each.

Up next: The Ducks host the UCLA Bruins (13-5, 4-2 Pac-12) at 7:15 PM (PT) on Saturday, January 20th, at Matthew Knight Arena.

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 1)...: They find a backup quarterback

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 1)...: They find a backup quarterback

Oregon's promising 2017 season ended with a wild two weeks that saw Willie Taggart depart for Florida State, coach Mario Cristobal take over the program, recruits decommit left and right and then the Ducks fall flat during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Still, the 2018 season could see Oregon return to Pac-12 prominence. That is, if a lot of variables play out in the Ducks' favor. We will take a position-by-position look at the team to discuss what must happen in order for Oregon to rise again in 2018. 

Other position entries: Running back

---

Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 1)...: They find a backup quarterback.

Key departure: Senior Taylor Alie.

Projected 2018 starter: Justin Herbert, Jr., (6-6, 225). 

Key backups: Braxton Burmeister, Soph., (6-1, 204); Tyler Shough, Fr., (6-4, 190).

What we know: Oregon, other than during the Las Vegas Bowl, had one of the best offenses in the nation when Herbert was healthy. He will be the unchallenged starter again in 2018 and could find himself in Heisman Trophy contention should he remain in the lineup and the Ducks improve on last year's 7-6 record. 

What we don't know: Can the Ducks survive any length of time without Herbert in 2018? Unless Oregon brings in a transfer quarterback, the backup will either be Burmeister, who struggled greatly during the five games Herbert missed last season (57 percent completions, two touchdown passes and six interceptions), or Shough, a four-star recruit who plans to enroll in time for spring drills.

What must happen for Oregon to contend: Herbert must avoid injury or one of the two youngsters had better become serviceable enough to prevent the offense from imploding upon their insertion into the lineup. 

Oregon went 1-4 minus Herbert last year while scoring about 15 points per game. Herbert missed the toughest part of the team's schedule last season. If he were to miss a weaker stretch of games next year, maybe the Ducks survive his absence in the short term. If he misses any stretch that includes key games against the likes of Washington, UCLA, Stanford or Arizona, the Ducks could be cooked.   

That is, unless Burmeister grows up in a hurry or Shough turns out to be the next Herbert. 

Next up: The 2018 Ducks will contend if...: Tony Brooks-James is ready dominate. 

Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens named next CFP Selection Committee Chair

usatsi_8306827.jpg

Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens named next CFP Selection Committee Chair

In the first year of the College Football Playoff existence, UO director of athletics Rob Mullens got to experience the selection process as a participant, before Oregon's run to the national championship game to cap the 2014 season.

For the last two years, Mullens had an insider's view, as a member of the 13-person selection committee. And for the next two years, Mullens will gain yet another perspective, after being announced Wednesday as chair of the selection committee for a two-year term beginning with the 2018 season.

"This is an incredible honor," Mullens said. "It's the opportunity to be involved in an extremely important, intense element of college athletics, with the added bonus of working alongside a group of accomplished professionals. I was obviously a firm believer in the process already, but stepping into it and having a chance to be part of the committee, it reaffirmed everything."

Mullens, who has been director of athletics at Oregon since 2010, will be the third CFP selection committee chair since its inception. He follows former Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long and, for the past two seasons, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt.

Hocutt was chair for the first two years of Mullens' term on the committee. Mullens is being appointed to a two-year term as chairman – which will include being spokesman for the committee following the weekly rankings that are released beginning midway through the season.

"Kirby's done a fantastic job," Mullens said. "Having the opportunity to serve under his leadership for two years was a great experience. Although the chair serves as spokesperson, you're really there to represent the voice of the committee. Every member is extremely involved; they arrive incredibly prepared and ready to get it right. The chairman is just the voice of the committee, a role Kirby handled extremely well."

The selection committee meets over two days at the beginning of each week in Dallas, beginning at midseason. It ranks a weekly top 25 and then, after the regular season, chooses the four playoff semifinal participants as well as the matchups for the other New Year's Six bowl games.

Individual committee members are assigned as "point person" for individual conferences; in 2017, Mullens was responsible for providing research on the Big Ten and Mountain West. The chair is not tasked with that responsibility, instead setting the agenda and facilitating discussion in the meetings, then serving as spokesman along with CFP executive director Bill Hancock.

"We are delighted that Rob will be stepping into this role," Hancock said. "He is an experienced committee member, extremely passionate about college football, detail-oriented and brings a high level of energy that is perfectly suited to chairing the committee."

Hancock originally contacted Mullens about his possible appointment as chair. The CFP management committee, made up of 10 conference commissioners and the athletic director from Notre Dame, officially appoints the chair.

"The system works," Mullens said. "You're in there with 12 other outstanding people who understand the enormity of the task, who have great integrity and value the importance of integrity to the process.

"When you have 13 different voices, there's a lot of conversation. But I always left knowing that everybody in there had integrity at the top of their mind, everyone was well-prepared, and the conversation was incredibly thorough."

No. 8 Oregon remains PERFECT in Pac-12 play with win over No. 18 ASU

img_4760.jpg

No. 8 Oregon remains PERFECT in Pac-12 play with win over No. 18 ASU

How Oregon won: After an ugly win at home last Friday over unranked Arizona, the Ducks welcomed in the Arizona State Sun Devils in another top-25 matchup this season. Oregon must have done nothing but shoot the ball all day yesterday because the shooting slump Oregon found itself in on Friday was no more. Lead by sophomores Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard combined 46 points, the No. 8 Oregon Ducks remain undefeated at 6-0 in Pac-12 play with a 74-64 win over No. 18 Arizona State at Matthew Knight Arena.

"We shot it so well tonight," said Oregon coach Kelly Graves. "Arizona State is typically among the best in the conference and sometimes in the nation in field goal percentage defense. I just thought we were getting really good opportunities tonight. We concentrated on getting the ball inside more and were able to hit a few from three. We didn't shoot many of them I don't think but that was a good all-around game."

What it means: Two major points to highlight in this game. One: the Ducks had a 38-34 lead going into halftime and came out with an energetic, intense defensive effort holding Arizona State to a mere five points in the entire quarter. 

"We come out in every third quarter really well," said Ionescu. "I think we need to do that from the start and do that all four quarters. But I have faith. We come in at halftime and we regroup, we talk it out, our coaches get on us and it's kind of a time to just relax. The nerves are out and then we come back in that second half really dialed in and focused and do whatever we need to in order to win."

Two: Oregon let Arizona State back into the game in the fourth quarter. At the end of the third quarter, Oregon had a 59-39 lead. A comfortable 20-point lead that coach Graves warned his team that the Sun Devils would fight until the clock striked 0:00. A possible, minor area of concern seeing as the Ducks would get outscored 25-15 in the fourth quarter.

"We built a nice lead, we were playing so well, and then we jsut kind of slowly let them back in," said Graves. "You can't do that against a good team. Arizona State is really good and I remember at the 5:30 timeout... I said 'You guys, they will play hard until the buzzard', and the did."

High flying Ducks: Four Ducks finished with double-digit points: Ionescu with 26 points and Hebard's 20 points came from a perfect 9-of-9 from the field. Junior guard Maite Cazorla had a nice game finishing with 15 points (3-for-6 from three-point range) and five assists. The fourth Duck player was freshman forward Satou Sabally who finished with 10 points and two steals.

Foul Play: Both Hebard and junior forward Oti Gildon finished with three fouls each.

Up next: Oregon hits the road to face in-state rival Oregon State (13-4, 4-2 Pac-12) at 8 PM (PT) on Friday in Corvallis, OR.

Ducks bring their A-GAME but come up short to Arizona

usatsi_10541272.jpg

Ducks bring their A-GAME but come up short to Arizona

How Oregon lost: Every Ducks player to step onto the court today scored. An all-around team effort lead by redshirt senior Elijah Brown's 25 points (6-of-9 from three-point range) and redshirt senior Mikyle McIntosh's 20 points and seven rebounds, and the Ducks nearly come away from upsetting two top-25 teams on the road. But No. 17 Arizona's (14-1, 4-1 Pac-12) experience, along with future top NBA draft pick Deandre Ayton, was too much for these young Ducks as Oregon (12-6) drops to 2-3 in Pac-12 play with an 90-83 loss in Tuscon, AZ. 

What it means: A rocky, shaky start on the inside for Oregon. Arizona took advantage of its size down low with with not only a height advantage but also a size advantage. But in the final minutes in the first half, Oregon went on a 12-0 run on scrappy, energetic plays. A block by freshman Abu Kigab, layups from freshman Victor Bailey Jr. and senior Mikyle McIntosh, an Arizona offensive charge caused from sophomore guard Payton Pritchard, and being more aggressive on the boards, everyone was getting involved. 

The second half was more of the same story. Ducks bringing their A-game in all facets: McIntosh jumped over an Arizona player to get the block, Pritchard and senior Elijah Brown caught fire from three-point range, and just the overall energy from the first half seemed to carry over into the second. The Ducks had a response to most of what Arizona threw at them, but in the end, experience and Wildcats junior guard Allonzo Trier was too much to contain.

But what a turnaround for the Ducks in this past weekend alone. As the underdogs vs. both No. 11 Arizona State on thursday and No. 17 Arizona today, the Ducks showed major improvement in several areas to their game compared to the beginning of conference play. Looks like Dana Altman is maybe starting to put the pieces together as he typically does this time of the season. 

High flying Ducks: A complete team effort and every bit of it was needed. Lead by E. Brown's 25 points (6-of-9 from three-point range), Pritchard showed his leadership down the stretch, at just a sophomore, but proved to be an important assest as the only returing starter for Oregon from last season. He finished with 12 points and seven assists. McIntosh also had a nice game finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds.

Fou play: McIntosh fouled out of the game with 28 seconds left in the game. Junior Paul White also fouled out with 21 seconds left. Freshman Abu Kigab and Pritchard finished with four fouls, and freshman Kenny Wooten and sophomore forward Keith Smith finished with three.

Up next: The Ducks return home to host USC (12-6, 3-2 Pac-12) at 6 PM (PT) this Thursday.

Oregon turns up defensive heat; Arizona gets out of the kitchen

screen_shot_2018-01-12_at_11.17.09_pm.png

Oregon turns up defensive heat; Arizona gets out of the kitchen

How Oregon won: It wasn't pretty, but the Ducks got it done. The Arizona Wildcats sat in a 2-3 defensive zone with a mix of other zone looks all night, forcing Oregon to take the outside shot. In Oregon coach Kelly Graves' words, "People are not very bright if they are going to zone us. Well, we got zoned tonight, they [Arizona] looked pretty smart for doing it." Meaning the Ducks are normally decent shooters, but tonight fell to a mere 38% field goal percentage on 21-of-55 shots. However, the Ducks' defensive pressure from start to finish, carried them all night as No. 8 Oregon (16-2, 5-0 Pac-12) defeated Arizona (4-12, 0-5 Pac-12) 62-44 at Matthew Knight Arena.

"We couldn't possibly shoot worse," said Graves. "Seriously, 12-of-36 [from three-point range] and I don't think we took a bad three all night. Those are shots that we typically make."

The Ducks turned up their defensive pressure in the second half holding the Wildcats to just five points in the third quarter. Oregon also caused 15 turnovers and created 20 points off those turnovers. 

What it means: The Ducks improve to 5-0 in the Pac-12 and are now the only team undefeated in conference play. 

"We won the game, we're 5-0 I think for the first time in school history," said Graves. "That's something to be proud of... I thought defensively we were pretty on point when we needed to be. I thought that thrid quarter when the kids were challenged, we went out and they did a heck of a job. And even though we still weren't making shots, we were starting to build a lead because we were defending so well. Thats's two or three games in a row we've defended quite well, so I think we are getting better in that area."

If Oregon can maintain a consistent defense, that can travel on the road as well, the shots will eventually fall again. Despite an off-shooting night, sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu recorded a double-double 22 points and 11 rebounds to lead all scores.

High flying Ducks: Sophomore forward Ruthy Hebard finished with 14 points on 4-of-5 from the field (80%) and grabbed six rebounds. Junior guard Maite Cazorla and senior guard Lexi Bando finished with nine points each.

Foul play: Freshman Satou Sabally and Hebard finished with three fouls a piece.

Up next: Oregon hosts the No. 18 Arizona Sun Devils (13-4, 4-1 Pac-12) at 5 PM this Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena.