Oregon Ducks

Oregon's "#TheMovement18" recruiting blitz must scoop up impact defensive linemen

Oregon's "#TheMovement18" recruiting blitz must scoop up impact defensive linemen

Oregon's coaches are killing it on the recruiting trail. They are Tweeting up a storm complete with the fresh hashtag, "TheMovement18," while using plenty of Emojis, GIFs and photos of Ducks swag in order to appeal to the talented teens they are pursuing.  

So far, the high-energy and social media-savvy recruiting tactics under new coach Willie Taggart have worked well and have fans giddy about the future. Oregon's 2018 recruiting class currently ranks No. 11 in the country, according to Rivals.com. That's coming off of a No. 18 ranking for the 2017 recruiting class, completed last February. 

Just one problem: Where are all of the impact defensive linemen?

I know, I know, it's early. Signing day is nearly nine months away. But let's be clear: All of the bells and whistles and hyped commitment gatherings won't mean squat in the end unless the new coaching staff can make a habit out of landing high-end defensive line recruits. Just ask the former coaching staff whose failure in this department from 2013 through 2016 contributed greatly to a defense that last season ranked 128th (518.4 yards per game) in the nation in total defense and 121st (246.5) against the run during a 4-8 season. 

The defensive line is so depleted with veteran talent that Taggart went out and signed graduate transfer defensive lineman Scott Pagano. The former Clemson part-time starter will instantly become the Ducks' best defensive lineman, if not best defensive player. 

Oregon must sign the Paganos of the world on the front end of their careers, not at the back end. The Ducks are trying. According to 247Sports.com, Oregon has issued offers to 24 defensive ends and 10 defensive tackles. Of those 34 players, 21 are rated as 4-star recruits, or better. However, just one is even listed as being "warm" on Oregon while 17 have either already committed, or are listed as "cool" toward Oregon. 

Here is the overall recruiting situation thus far: 

Oregon's big weekend during the spring game included receiving commitments from six recruits followed up by another on Monday. Five were rated as four-star recruits by Rivals.com while 247Sports rated six as four-star prospects.

But zero defensive linemen were included in the haul. 

The Ducks on Friday did receive a commitment from Mohamed Diallo, a three-star defensive lineman out of Arizona Western Community College. He's a nice get. At an athletic 6-foot-3, 295 pounds, Diallo could become a good player for the Ducks at nose guard in 2018. But he must be an addition, not the center piece, to what has to be a much stronger class of defensive linemen. 

Taggart made a big splash in his first recruiting go around, but not at defensive line. UO signed three, but only one is a four-star recruit, freshman early enrollee Rutger Reitmaier. He committed to Oregon last June, five months before Taggart took over the program following the firing of Mark Helfrich.

A quick turnaround for the Oregon Ducks will mostly depend on dramatic improvement from the defense, and that will require a head-turning upgrade in play from the defensive line. So give credit to the Ducks for addressing this problem with the addition of Pagano. But the future of the defensive line remains in serious doubt and must be upgraded through recruiting. 

One of the knocks on the previous staff was that they failed to recruit impact players on defense after 2012, especially within the front seven. Under former coach Chip Kelly In 2012, the Ducks signed maybe their best defensive line recruiting class ever with the additions of four-star recruits, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Alex Balducci. Buckner and Armstead both went on to become first-round NFL Draft picks by the San Francisco 49ers. Balducci signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent and is now a center with the New York Jets.

Kelly's final recruiting influence came in 2013 before he moved on to the NFL. That class, which included 13 of 19 players who committed to Oregon under Kelly, ended up with just two defensive linemen: Torrodney Prevot and Doug Brenner. Prevot actually ended up playing linebacker while Brenner played offensive line. Elijah George, a two-star recruit offensive lineman in that class, is now a reserve defensive lineman.

Let that all sink in for a minute.

The Ducks sought to recover in 2014 with the addition of five defensive line recruits. Only one, however, was rated as a four-star player and that was junior college transfer Tui Talia. Of the four three-star recruits, Justin Hollins and Jalen Jelks have had the only impact. Both remain tweeners who might be undersized to be more than pass rushers. Eddie Heard, who ultimately played linebacker, and former starter, Austin Maloata, were removed from the team following their respective troubles with the law last year. 

Oregon tried again with five defensive line recruits in 2015. Again, just one was a four-star get. That was Canton Kaumatule, who appeared to have the potential to become the next Armstead or Buckner before repeated injuries and concussions slowed his development. He retired last season.  

The other four signees, all three-star recruits, remain projects. Junior Rex Manu and redshirt sophomore Gary Baker are the top returning defensive tackles. They will now play nose guard in UO's 3-4. Redshirt sophomores Drayton Carlberg and Gus Cumberlander will be competing for time at defensive end. 

UO signed four more defensive linemen in 2016. Redshirt freshman Hunter Kampmoyer and sophomore Bryson Young, a four-star recruit, have shown promise. However, Ratu Mafileo retired due to injury concerns and Wayne Tei-Kirby, thrust into action as a freshman, has transferred to BYU. 

To put all of this into perspective, consider that over the last five recruiting cycles Clemson has signed 10 four-star defensive linemen, including Pagano in 2013, and two five-star defensive linemen.

Oregon, during the past handful of years, did just fine signing players at most every other position, especially on offense. Running backs. Wide receivers. Offensive linemen. Even at quarterback where the Ducks at least signed promising four-star recruits, Morgan Mahalak (2014) and Travis Jonsen (2015). Mahalak has since transferred while Jonsen has yet to meet his potential. But, the Ducks hit big on Justin Herbert in 2016. 

Recruiting at defensive back and linebacker has been mixed, but at least some bright spots exist at those two positions. The defensive backs improved greatly last year over 2015, but a lack of a run defense and adequate pass rush left the secondary hung out to dry.

That all said, the linebacker position also needs an upgrade. Even with Balducci, Buckner and Armstead, Oregon's defense got steamrolled in the national title game by Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. One reason was Elliott's talent, another was Oregon's lack of future NFL prospects at linebacker.

But we've seen and are seeing inroads being made at the second level of defense. Sophomore linebacker Troy Dye is a budding superstar. Commit Adrian Jackson, is rated as the No. 11 outside linebacker in the nation. The 2017 class featured linebacker Sampson Niu, who committed to Oregon last June under Helfrich and was rated as the No. 12 outside linebacker in his class. 

Oregon must match that level of recruiting along the defensive line so that transfers such like Pagano are viewed more as nice additions, such as 2015 transfer center Matt Hegarty, rather than as saviors, like 2015 quarterback Vernon Adams Jr..

The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Pagano could be an immediate starter opposite Mondeaux in defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt's 3-4 defense. Or, the former Clemson defensive tackle could also play nose guard. Figure he will play all over in different situational packages. 

Pagano's presence will prevent Leavitt from having to depend on a young end or nose guard that might not be ready to stand up to the rigors of the 3-4 defense.

Freshman nose guard Jordan Scott, a Taggart get, turned heads during spring drills with his athleticism and size but shouldn't be relied upon to carry the load in the middle next season. It's likely going to be up to Manu and Baker to get it done inside. 

But Pagano only buys Oregon time. All of the young defensive linemen have time to develop under position coach Joe Salave'a, considered to be a great recruiter. Helfrich's recruits could ultimately pan out. Regardless, the Ducks must move away from waiting for linemen to develop and step into an era of having a revolving door of impact defensive linemen with NFL potential flowing through the system. 

So while it's nice for Oregon that this staff has brought high energy to the recruiting trail and has landed commitments and signatures from promising recruits at many positions, the reality is that unless they can sign some Buckners, Armsteads and Balduccies, the Ducks' future will include more teams padding their offensive stats against Oregon's defense.  

Will Oregon Ducks baseball finally take down rival Oregon State Beavers this year?

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NBCS Northwest

Will Oregon Ducks baseball finally take down rival Oregon State Beavers this year?

BY TALYA FRANCO 

Oregon Baseball has come up short against the Oregon State Beavers for many seasons now, but will this be their year for a breakthrough? They will be facing their rival for the first time this season on April 20. Despite the lack of dominance the Ducks have had over the Beavers, this year might be the year they can get that win in Corvallis.

Oregon State ended the 2017 season leading the Pac-12 with an astonishing 27-3 record and 56-6 overall. The team pitching was outstanding last year with an average team ERA of 1.93 and a batting average of .291 as a whole. This year is a whole other story for the Beavers; they have gone down in the rankings to 4th in the Pac-12 and are already tied for the same amount of losses as last season. Their pitching staff lies in the middle of the pack with a team ERA of 3.74.

Despite the Beavers ranking second in batting, the Ducks are ranked one place higher than the Beavers in pitching with an ERA of 2.69. Overall, the Beavers program has been strong for many years always competing at the highest level and this year have significantly dropped in rankings and numbers opening up spots for other schools to dominate the Pac-12.

The Ducks were swept by the Beavers last year but didn’t make it easy. They faced off 4 times averaging a one- or two-run difference. The most exciting game they played last year was when the Ducks attempted to come back in a rally but lost in a five-to four-score.

The school rivalry also known as “Civil War” is the most competitive aspect the athletic departments focuses on. This competition is not only in baseball but in every single sport and the baseball team is looking for that Civil War win coming up in the next two weeks.

Ruthy is ruthless in Ducks' Sweet 16 victory

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Ruthy is ruthless in Ducks' Sweet 16 victory

How Oregon won: A bit of nerves perhaps in the opening minutes, for the Oregon Ducks settled in nicely in this NCAA Sweet 16 matchup against the Central Michigan Chippewas. Lead by sophomore forward Ruthy Hebard down low, on both sides of the court, the No. 2 Ducks cruised to an 83-69 win over No. 11 Central Michigan and punch their ticket into the Elite 8.

It took awhile for both team to get settled in. Two hot-shooting three-point teams, and neither hit a three-pointer until halfway through the first quarter. Hebard established her game early. Her teammates found her down low, one or two dribbles to get to her right side, and then a high-percentage layup, the shot she has mastered so much this season. 33 times in a row, in fact. Hebard records her second double-double of the post-season tournament with 23 points and 14 rebounds. She needed four more blocks for a triple-double.

The Ducks defense came to play as well. Central Michigan comes in ranked No. 13 in 3-pt field goals attempted. Oregon coach Kelly Graves said during pregame that the Ducks must be mindful and defend the three-point line, and make sure the Ducks get on the boards because the Chippewas like to pass the ball out if they get an offensive rebound. Oregon’s defense held Central Michigan to 7-of-27 (26%) from behind the arc. Along with making sure there was a hand in the air on the Chippewas shooters, Oregon also recorded 11 total blocks, six alone coming from Hebard. Oregon will need that same defensive pressure down low against Notre Dame on Monday with their height down low.

What it means: The No. 2 Ducks are headed to the NCAA Elite 8 for back-to-back consecutive seasons and will face No. 1 Notre Dame on Monday evening in Spokane, WA. The Irish are coming off a 90-84 battle against No. 4 Texas A&M lead by starters Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale’s 25 points each.

High-flying Ducks: Sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu continues to shine when the spotlight keeps getting brighter. Ionescu was one rebound shy of her 11th career triple-double. She finished with 16 points, 10 assists, and nine rebounds. Senior Lexi Bando finished with 14 points hitting 4-of-11 from three-point range. Junior Oti Gildon, playing in front of her home town fans of Spokane, came up again huge with 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench. She continues to be a stable presence off the bench for Graves.

Foul play: Gildon finished with three fouls. 

Ducks flying north to Spokane in dominant fashion

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Ducks flying north to Spokane in dominant fashion

How Oregon won: If you wanted high-scoring, fast-paced, an all-around offensive efficient battle, then you came to the right game. Two of the top-10 leading team scorers battled head-to-head in a matchup that did not disappoint with 174 total points scored. Both teams off to a hot start as buckets were raining from the ceiling of Matthew Knight Arena in front of a full house. But in the end, it was all Oregon on both sides of the court with an 101-73 victory over No. 10 Minnesota in round two of the NCAA tournament in Eugene, OR.

“Had to have been a fun game to watch for a fan to watch, it wasn’t always fun to be a coach to watch,” said Oregon coach Kelly Graves. “I thought that first half, especially in the first quarter was, that’s high level offensive basketball…”

Offense production was there but the defense was on point tonight and picked up right where it left off Friday evening vs. No. 15 Seattle U. The Ducks held the number three team in the nation in scoring at 85.2 points per game, to just 73 points, 14 in each the second and third quarters. The Ducks defense limited the leader of the Gopher pack Kenisha Bell to just 14 points making sure that there was someone in front of her at all times in Oregon’s zone and clogging the lanes with multiple defenders there to challenge her shot.

Graves said, “I remember at the media timeout, second quarter, we talked about the first team to make a three-minute defensive stand was going to separate themselves from the others and that’s what we did.”

Ducks go on an 11-0 run to close out the first half and take a 51-36 lead. And it didn’t stop there. Oregon outscored Minnesota 30-14 in the third quarter and rode that momentum all the way until the final buzzard. 

Sabrina Ionescu was on triple-double watch by the end of the first quarter. She is on another level when the spotlight continues to get brighter. It is remarkable that with so much ice in her veins, Sabrina Ionescu can still heat up. Ionescu’s night finished just shy of yet another triple-double with 29 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds. Add in a step-back three-pointer, while getting fouled for the chance at am and-1 and four-point play, but missed the free throw.

What it means: The No. 2 Oregon Ducks hit the road north to Spokane, Washington to continue the next few rounds of March Madness play. The Ducks await the winner of No. 11 Central Michigan (28-4) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (27-6) to be played on Monday, March 19th. 

High-flying Ducks: Lead by Ionescu, her partner in crime sophomore forward Ruthy Hebard recorded another double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds. This duo combined for 21-of-28 shots from the field. Freshman Satou Sabally, who started tonight with five quick points and finished with 12 total points. 

In her final game in Matthew Knight Arena, senior and Eugene native Lexi Bando ended her career in front of Ducks fans doing what she does best: hitting three-pointers. She finished with 11 points hitting three triples.

Foul play: A very clean game from Oregon defensively found no one in any foul trouble.

 

This time, the defense did not travel. That's a wrap for the Ducks' 2017-2018 season

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This time, the defense did not travel. That's a wrap for the Ducks' 2017-2018 season

How Oregon lost: The 2017-2018 season is in the books. The defense did not travel on the road at No. 2 Marquette today. Golden Eagles senior guard Andrew Rowsey could not miss. The 1.75 foot extension of the NIT three-point line proved no different for the fourth ranked NCAA three-point shooting team at .415% as Rowsey finished with 29 points hitting 6-of-11 from behind the arc. No. 3 Oregon ends its season with a 101-92 loss at Marquette in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.   

The tempo was set high from tipoff. Marquette controlled the tempo forcing 13 total Oregon turnovers and capitalizing with 30 points off those turnovers and 36 fast-break points.

Of the first 15 points for the Golden Eagles, 13 of which came off of fast-break opportunities. Marquette hit seven of its first 11 from three-point range and jumped out to a 30-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Ducks had no defensive response for Rowsey, who got off any three-point shot he wanted or forced Oregon to fall for his shot-fake and draw the foul for three free throws. 

Oregon quickly fell into a 20-point hole and Marquette kept its foot on the gas until the final buzzard. 

The offensive production was there today for Oregon, shooting 54% from the field, but defensively, the Ducks could not find an answer for the Golden Eagles’ fast-paced tempo and hot shooting.

What it means: Although the 2017-2018 season may not have been the finish that the players, staff, and fans had hoped for, the Ducks finished with a 23-win season including a 10-win conference record in the eight season under head coach Dana Altman.

The last time the Ducks were in the NIT tournament, the following year’s team went to the NCAA Sweet 16 in March Madness. With a top incoming recruiting class, the future still looks bright in Eugene. Only four seniors graduating, including two starters, and a young team that saw valuable minutes throughout the entire season will be interesting to follow next season and where they end up.

High-flying Ducks: The Oregon big men got it done on the inside for the Ducks. Lead by redshirt senior MiKyle McIntosh’s 25 points, shot 15-of-18 from the free throw line. Junior transfer Paul White finished with 19 points and four rebounds. Sophomore guard Payton Pritchard, who came out strong with seven quick points, had the rest of his offensive production come late finishing with 16 points. Freshman Victor Bailey Jr., had another nice game once again off the bench finishing with 11 points, most of which this time coming from inside the three-point line.

Foul play: White finished with four fouls and McIntosh, freshmen Kenny Wooten and Troy Brown finished with three fouls.

Another triple-double; Another ankle-breaker; another day at the office for No. 2 Oregon

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Another triple-double; Another ankle-breaker; another day at the office for No. 2 Oregon

How Oregon won: Another triple-double, another ankle-breaking crossover, just another win for the Oregon Ducks. But it all came at the right time. Since defeating Stanford to claim the Pac-12 tournament title for the first time in school history, the No. 2 Ducks picked up right where they left off in round one of the NCAA March Madness tournament vs. No. 15 Seattle University with a commanding 88-45 win at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon.

“I thought we played really well right from the get go,” said Oregon coach Kelly Graves. “When I saw our team diving for loose balls, early in that game, I could tell that this wasn’t just another game that we were just going to go through the motions and win this thing. These guys really wanted to compete.” 

Seattle University coach Suzy Barcomb said of Oregon, “I truthfully do think they should be a Final Four team…”

Lead by her tenth career triple-double, sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu shined once again in the spotlight. Ionescu finished with 19 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds, and she accomplished all of this in just 31 minutes. With one rebound to go to complete her triple-double, the crowd of Oregon fans began to subtly boo when other Oregon players got the rebound. All in good fun and in support of Ionescu, the NCAA record-holder for career triple-doubles. At last, she finally grabbed her final rebound, was immediately taken out of the game by Graves, and for the remaining nine minutes of the game, Ionescu was pumping up her teammates from the bench.

Coming off a deep tournament run last season, the Ducks were hungry for more coming out tonight and in front of their home crowd.

“Less nerves? No, I think I was nervous, I think our team was nervous,” said Ionescu. “Seeding doesn’t matter, I think we learned that last year. We came out and we were hungry for wins, and we wanted to play and we hung in their with 2-seed’s, 3-seed’s, 4-seed’s, so seeding didn’t matter. It just felt different because we were at home and we had the crowd on our side.”

It was just clicking on both ends of the floor tonight for Oregon. What started on the defensive end was finished on offensive with swift ball movement and establishing both an inside and outside game. Oregon got off to a hot start forcing four quick turnovers getting hands in the passing lanes and deflecting balls. The Ducks held Seattle scoreless for just over five minutes. 

What it means: The Ducks will play the No. 10 Minnesota Golden Gophers in round two of the Spokane Region tournament at 7:30 PM at Matthew Knight Arena. Minnesota comes in as the number three scoring offense in the country, so Oregon will have to bring it on the defensive front once again.

“They have quick guards and they move the ball well, they shoot the ball well,” said Ionescu. “It will be a tough team, but I think we are prepared, especially playing through the Pac-12 and our preseason games. I think it prepares us for March, so I’m excited to play another game.”

High-flying Ducks: Five Oregon players scored in double digits tonight. Lead by Ionescu's 19 points, junior Oti Gildon came up huge off the bench finishing with 16 points and six rebounds. Sophomore forward Ruthy Hebard was once again a force down low finishing with 12 points and one rebound shy of a double-double. Senior Lexi Bando, playing in her final collegiate tournament, finished with 11 points on 3-of-6 from behind the arc. Finally, junior guard Maite Cazorla finished with 10 points and zero turnovers.

Oregon scored 54 points in the paint, partly due to Hebard and Gildon making their presence known down low.

Foul play: Freshamn Satou Sabally finished with three fouls. 

Up next: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 10 Minnesota at 7:30 PM at Matthew Knight Arena.

Oregon is Victor-(BaileyJr)-ious in round 1 of NIT

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Oregon is Victor-(BaileyJr)-ious in round 1 of NIT

How Oregon won: The Ducks picked up right where they left off in Las Vegas last weekend for the Pac-12 tournament: slow start, better middle, even better ending. In the first round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), the No. 3 Ducks hosted the No. 6 Rider Broncs at Matthew Knight Arena, in front of a mere 2,327 Oregon fans. The shooting struggles continued from the Pac-12 tournament into the first quarter, that is until Oregon freshman Victor Bailey Jr., checked in off the bench. Bailey hit seven three-pointers and co-lead Oregon to a first-round NIT victory 99-86 over Rider.

“I know the guys were disappointed, I was disappointed, at halftime,” said Oregon coach Dana Altman. “We were beat in every category. Second chance points, bad turnovers, easy baskets. You know our energy level was just really bad. No communication defensively. It was not a good have and we were probably fortunate to only be down eight, as poorly as we played.”

Oregon shot just 33.3% on 5-of-15 from the field in the first quarter and trailed Rider 21-15. Add that to nine first-half turnovers (dribbling off foot, bad passes, stepping out of bounds) and the Ducks were the definition of “rocky start”.

Altman continued, “Second half, we didn’t get off to a real good start, but once we started clicking, and got a few shots down, the energy level went way up. VJ (Bailey Jr.) really likes to play when the ball is going in. He did a really nice job shooting the ball and giving us some energy…”

Bailey Jr., finished co-leading the Ducks with 23 points off the bench shooting 7-of-8 from behind the “new” NIT three-point line (extend an extra foot and eight inches).

What it means: The Ducks survived and advance to the next round of the NIT and awaits the winner of No. 2 Marquette vs. No. 7 Harvard.

Last weekend where the Ducks relied on senior leadership from MiKyle McIntosh and Elijah Brown during the Pac-12 tournament, tonight it was the underclassmen. Freshmen Bailey Jr., and Kenny Wooten got it done on both ends of the court. Shot-blocking phenom Wooten added three more blocks to his season stats tonight. Although Rider did outscore the Ducks in the paint 50-34, Wooten still managed to make his presence known. A number of those Rider points came in the first half with mis-communication in Oregon’s zone and getting the ball behind the big men down low.

Wooten recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

High-flying Ducks: With Bailey Jr., feeling it from downtown, that cause the Rider defense to push out to guard the perimeter leaving driving lanes more open for sophomore guard Payton Pritchard and freshman guard Troy Brown. Pritchard also finished with 23 points and added eight assists. Brown recorded eight points and seven rebounds. Elijah Brown had a quiet 18 points hitting 3-of-6 from three-point range.

Foul play: Troy Brown and McIntosh each finished with four fouls. Junior Paul White finished with three fouls.

Up next: The Ducks await the winner of No. 2 Marquette vs. No. 7 Harvard tomorrow night. Home court advantage is based on seeding, so if Marquette wins, Oregon will travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. If Harvard wins, Oregon will host the next round of the NIT.

Big Dance hopes on the line for Oregon vs. USC in Pac-12 semifinal game

Big Dance hopes on the line for Oregon vs. USC in Pac-12 semifinal game

Pac-12 Semifinal: #6 Oregon (22-11, 10-8) vs. #2 USC (25-7, 12-6)


It’s been a dramatic journey for Oregon to reach the Pac-12 tournament semifinal game.

The Ducks trailed by as many as 11 points to Utah in the second half of the quarterfinal game, but a late rally and some last-minute heroics from MiKyle McIntosh and a game saving block from Kenny Wooten sealed the 68-66 victory over No.3 seed Utah

Oregon will face No. 2 seed USC at 8:30 p.m., Friday night. USC has topped Oregon in close victories in the schools’ two meetings so far this season.

On Jan. 18, the Trojans beat Oregon, 75-70, in Eugene and then earned a 72-70 victory over the Ducks at the Galen Center on Feb. 15.

USC’s Jordan McLaughlin has been a handful for Oregon this season. He had a near triple-double in the first meeting with 11 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. In the second game, he had a double-double with 11 points and 11 assists.

USC had a first game bye and then held Oregon State to 31 percent shooting in a 61-48 victory to reach the semifinal game. Chimezie Metu had 22 points and 11 rebounds and two blocks in the Trojans victory over the Beavers.

Oregon has played eight straight games that have been decided by single digits, including three that went to overtime.  

Will the comeback Ducks strike again? Oregon is in a position where they likely need to win the Pac-12 Tournament to get to the NCAA Tournament.

The Trojans have the resume of a bubble team, another win would be a significant boost to their tournament resume.

Cristobal begins reshaping Oregon football today with start of spring drills

Cristobal begins reshaping Oregon football today with start of spring drills

Today won't technically be the first time that the Oregon Ducks take the field under new coach Mario Cristobal when spring drills begin. But in many ways it will be. 

The actual first time Cristobal led the Oregon football team onto a field of any kind occurred in early December shortly after Willie Taggart departed for Florida State, leaving the Ducks in disarray. 

Cristobal did his best to right the ship in time for the Las Vegas Bowl just 10 days later but he simply didn't have enough time to fix the mess at hand. The players, who lobbied for Cristobal to replace Taggart, didn't successfully make the transition from "Do Something" to disappointment and then back to contentment under their new leader (save for defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt being bent out of shape he didn't replace Taggart) in time to avoid a 38-28 loss to Boise State in Sin City. 

There was simply too much disruption in play, and that included star running back Royce Freeman electing not to play in the bowl game in order to avoid a potential injury before departing to the NFL. 

So, let's give Cristobal, the staff (those who returned) and the players the benefit of that doubt that what we saw in Las Vegas was an aberration and that the new era under a man who won national titles as a player at Miami (1989 and 1991) and as an assistant coach at Alabama (2015) begins today with a clean slate.

What Cristobal inherited was a team that should win at least eight games in 2018 given the presence of junior quarterback Justin Herbert, the return of several key players on what was a greatly improved defense, and a weak schedule that included three non-conference powder puffs. 

Reaching 10 wins, or more, will require maintaining the momentum created by Taggart, keeping Herbert healthy (UO went 1-4 in his absence last year due to a broken collarbone) and flushing the offense's showing in Las Vegas while recapturing the magic that had the Ducks averaging about 50 points per game during the regular season when Herbert was in action. 

"I think last year there was a foundation laid between all of us that gave us a chance to start building upon that but there's a big difference between winning seven games and winning eight, nine, 10, 11," Cristobal said.

To reach those levels the Ducks (7-6 last season) must have success against Washington, Stanford and the Chip Kelly-led UCLA Bruins at home, while also finding a way to win potentially tough road games at Arizona and Utah. 

The problem is that there is much mystery to unravel before anyone can rightfully believe that Oregon is going to find those 10 wins and contend in the Pac-12 North. 

Cristobal hasn't been a head coach since being fired from the same position with Florida International in 2012 after going 27-47. The Ducks are on their third coach in 15 months (Mark Helfrich was fired in December of 2016). Backup quarterback remains a huge issue. Wide receiver is in flux. The defensive line lacks depth. Freeman is gone. 

Plus, Oregon's aura as a dominant force has waned. The conference is not longer chasing Oregon. The Ducks are the one doing the hunting. And there's reason to believe that the hierarchy of conference coaches are not shaking in their boots fearful of the Cristobal era sweeping through the conference and laying waste to opponents. 

None of this is to say that Cristobal won't find success. He very well could. He also very well could not. 

We won't know the results for months. But that process begins today. 

Notes: UO will practice five times in March before taking time off for finals and spring break before returning to the field on April 3 to prepare for the spring game on April 21 in Autzen Stadium...Oregon will hold a practice at Franklin High School in Portland on April 7.  The Ducks practiced at Jesuit High School last spring. 

Ionescu shines in Ducks' biggest moment

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Ashley Young

Ionescu shines in Ducks' biggest moment

Big time players make big time plays in big time games. In one of the biggest games of her young career, Oregon sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu had a little "twinkle in her eye", according to Oregon coach Kelly Graves, coming into tonight's Pac-12 tournament finals vs. the No. 2 Stanford Cardinal. Ionescu went off for a career high and Pac-12 championship record 36 points to lead the No. 1 Oregon Ducks past the Cardinal 77-57 in Seattle, WA.

This is the Ducks' first ever Pac-12 tournament championship in program history.

Graves said on Ionescu, "I tell you, when you have somebody like Sabrina, she shines the brightest in the biggest moments, and she sure did that tonight. It's a part of her competitive greatness."

What was the key to success? Rewind to the beginning of February, and the Ducks had just suffered their second conference loss to the Cardinal at home at Matthew Knight Arena. Tonight, it was a different story and some "unfinished business" to attend to. 

"I thought our energy was great, we were active, our feet and our hands were active," said Graves. "We didn't get out and trap much but I just thought we were on point and dialed in. We decided to play them outside-in to try to take away that three-point game the best we could, make them make baskets around the hoop and we did that."

Ionescu, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, finished with 36 points shooting 14-of-24 from the field, four rebounds, four assists, and four steals. The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Satou Sabally recorded 12 points hitting 3-of-5 from three-point range. Sophomore forward Ruthy Hebard was one rebound shy of another double-double and finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. Junior guard Maite Cazorla finished with 10 points and six assists.