The Oregon Duck men’s basketball team prepared and built a roster for a certain style of play, and now three games into the season, they continue to try and quickly adapt to a different way of playing.
Oregon (2-1) has seen a rash of preseason injuries that have knocked four scholarship players out of action and kept them off the floor to start the year. Oregon is currently without senior guard Jermaine Couisnard, JUCO transfer guard Brennan Rigsby, junior forward Lok Wur, and sophomore wing Ethan Butler.
The Ducks have ample depth at forward and wing so that they could work through the injuries to Wur and Butler, but the loss of Couisnard and Rigsby cut Oregon’s number of guards from five to three.
“Because of Jermaine and Brennan, two guys that can handle the ball, we need those guys,” said Oregon head basketball coach Dana Altman.
The two injured guards were standouts during Oregon’s offseason summer trip to Canada. Both players showcased the ability to create for themselves or their teammates, defend the basketball, and hit down jumpers from the perimeter, a particular skill set that’s been lacking through the first three games.
The Ducks are shooting just 30 percent on three-pointers, and they’ve missed 30 free throws already this season.
“Those two guards coming out of Canada, with the results of Canada at that particular time, if I had to give a starting five, those two would have been in it,” said Altman.
Only three players on Oregon’s roster are shooting better than 30 percent on three-pointers, and that’s starting guard Keesawn Barthelemy (33%) and then 6-foot-11 centers Kel’el Ware (42.9) and Nate Bittle (37.5)
After two poor offensive performances to open the year, including a 69-56 home loss to UC Irvine, Altman made a switch in his rotation. He pulled senior wing Rivaldo Soares out of the starting lineup and inserted sophomore Bittle. He also played Ware the most minutes to date this season (25).
Bittle scored 10 points and made one of his three 3-point attempts while adding six rebounds and a blocked shot. Ware led the Ducks with 16 points, seven rebounds, two blocks, and two assists, and he made two of his three 3-point attempts. While a very small sample size, the offensive production from Oregon’s team was the best of the year, and it came against a team that made the NCAA Tournament last season.
While Couisnard and Rigsby continue to sit out with injuries for the short term, the Ducks are shifting their style of play. Oregon will ask Ware and Bittle to play more opposite one another or with starting center N’Faly Dante. That’s going to require one of Oregon’s centers to have to guard on the perimeter on defense, play on the perimeter on offense, and, most importantly, put more responsibility on Bittle and Ware than expected this early into the season.
“I wanted to bring the freshman along slowly, but now we have a different scenario,” said Altman. “He’s going to have to guard on the perimeter; Nate will have to guard more on the perimeter. That’s a tough adjustment for a guy used to standing in the paint.”
The Ducks have been pushing Ware, in particular, hard in practice and in games. Altman knows there is another gear or three he can reach to play at a high level consistently. Altman mentioned he’s seeing the progress Ware is making, and the performance against Montana State was a big step in the right direction.
Ware sees it, too, and understands his new role.
“At this level, you got to play way harder than high school, of course,” said Ware. “It’s all mental, really. You got to pick it up and play harder.”
“You see his natural talent, like when he goes to get a rebound, he’s way above everybody,” added Altman. “He’s so long. We’re going to find out Sunday and next week, older guys, the physicality and how much more he’s got to lower his base to get down, not to get knocked around. He still plays too straight up and down It was a step in the right direction, no doubt.”
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