Oregon men’s basketball is back from a holiday break to resume practicing, and coach Dana Altman is hoping his Ducks can emulate what happened in a similar situation a year ago.
“We really made a big jump after Christmas break," he said.
Recall those Ducks? They finished up the nonconference portion of their schedule with three lackluster wins at home, over teams that should not have been capable of defending Oregon but did. The Ducks were struggling offensively. They could not seem to find a set lineup.
They went from that to shooting 70 percent from the field in a rout of Washington State in Spokane to open the Pac-12 season, and then went on to win six of their first eight conference games.
Yeah, that was some turnaround. What precipitated it?
Altman said he told his players before they left on the 2011 break: “‘Fellas, we’re struggling, and when we come back we’ve all got to be ready for change,’ and they were."
Altman said the difference in the Ducks of last season following their holiday break was primarily on offense.
“Our ball movement was awful before Christmas, and after Christmas it got real good and our numbers reflected that," Altman said.
Oregon has one more nonconference game, on Monday against Nevada at Matthew Knight Arena, before opening the Pac-12 portion of its schedule on Jan. 6 at Oregon State.
In the practices before the Nevada game on New Year’s Eve, and then in the sessions leading up to the conference opener, Altman said the emphasis will be on offensive execution and defensive communication.
“We’ve got a lot of areas to work on and I hope our guys realize that," he said. “I think all the parts are there and we can have a good team (but) we’ve got a tremendous amount of progress to make and we’ve got to get started and make it happen pretty quickly."
At 10-2, the Ducks are only a game better than the 9-3 mark they put together before their break last season. But who can question that this version of Oregon basketball is not to this point better than last year, when the Ducks finished tied with California for second place in the Pac-12, a game behind Washington?
E.J. Singler, a senior and one of only two Ducks playing in his third season with Altman, certainly thinks the current team is further along than the past two.
“We’ve done better and picked it up quicker than in the past, especially with the younger guys," Singler said.
Still, he acknowledged, “we’re not there, we’ve got a lot of improvements to do ... we’re so much better than we’ve been playing."
What needs to get better? What changes need to be made?
Altman said it will be “nothing drastic," though “we’ve got to change some things and whether our guys adjust to that remains to be seen.
“We’ve just got to do everything better," Altman added. “We didn’t change much last year, we just got the ball moving (on offense), that was the biggest thing."
The result was that the Ducks shot better from the field, scored higher totals, and won more often. And this year? It remains to be seen, and not always on the court during games.
“In the two years I’ve been here (with Altman as coach), we’ve always done better in the Pac-12 season and that’s because of practice," Singler said. “Everything you do to get better is in practice time."