Optimistic Ducks ready for UCLA

By Steve Mims / The (Eugene) Register-Guard

Oregon will find out quickly if it solved some of its defensive problems in the Palouse or just got a quick fix from Washington State.

The men’s basketball Ducks returned home from Pullman optimistic that they saw improvement from their much-maligned defense during Sunday’s 71-44 win over the Cougars that snapped a five-game losing streak.

“I definitely feel like we took a step today (defensively),” Oregon senior forward Mike Moser said after the game Sunday. “We’ve been playing poor defense kind of consistently.”

Oregon snapped its streak of allowing at least 80 points in five straight games, giving up its fewest points in a game since last year’s 56-43 win over Nevada. It was the fewest points the Ducks allowed in a conference game since a 69-43 win over WSU in 2010-11.

Oregon (14-5 overall, 2-5 Pac-12 Conference) limited Washington State to 25 percent shooting. The Cougars had just two two-point field goals, and post players D.J. Shelton and Jordan Railey combined to make just two of their eight shots from the field.

“We really crowded the paint,” Moser said. “And we took away their best shooters.”

That performance came against the last-place Cougars and their lowest-scoring offense in the Pac-12.

Up next tonight at Matthew Knight Arena is UCLA (16-4, 5-2), which trails only Oregon in scoring offense at 84.3 points per game. The Bruins are tied with California for second place and are just outside the Top 25 after sweeping Stanford and Cal at home last weekend.

Oregon is not even getting votes in the polls anymore — they were 13-0 and ranked No. 10 before going on that five-game slide — though the Ducks are considered on the bubble but in the field for the NCAA tournament by most prognosticators this week.

More important, the Ducks finally ended their three-week tumble into the bottom half of the Pac-12 standings.

“We desperately needed that (win),” Oregon coach Dana Altman said after the WSU victory. “I feel good for the guys. They were relaxed in the locker room. It’s been a long three weeks for everybody.”

The Ducks dominated the Cougars from start to finish, building a 30-17 halftime lead and then holding the Cougars to 28.6 percent shooting in the second half.

“It feels good we finally put 40 minutes together,” senior guard Jason Calliste said. “We didn’t just play 20 minutes or 25 or 30.”

Calliste said the Ducks were confident they could get back to the form that helped them start the season with 13 consecutive wins.

“We never lost confidence,” he said. “Guys were mad or whatever, but it’s part of the game. It sucks that it took five losses for us to realize we’ve got to put 40 minutes together instead of 35.”

Calliste led the Ducks with 20 points against WSU, making eight of his 10 shots from the field and four of his six three-point attempts. He has scored in double digits in four straight games off the bench and has averaged 15 points per game during that stretch.

“When Jason gets going, we really want to feed him the ball,” Moser said. “He’s so consistent with everything he does. It doesn’t really matter where he gets the ball.”

Oregon shot 45.6 percent from the field, its best mark in two weeks although still below its season average.

“We’ve been playing behind so much, we haven’t relaxed offensively,” Altman said.

The Ducks are not likely to have such a relaxing evening on tonight against the Bruins.