By Steve Mims

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

Next up

Utah at Oregon

When: 7 p.m. Friday


EUGENE — Oregon is back from a short Christmas break.

The Ducks went their separate ways following last Wednesday’s 96-82 win over Central Arkansas before returning for an evening practice on Monday to prepare for the Pac-12 Conference schedule.

“We have to improve and do a better job defensively taking care of our responsibilities,” UO coach Dana Altman said. “For us to compete in the conference, we must do a better job.”

Oregon wrapped up nonconference play at 10-3 with five straight wins and will go eight days without a game until Utah arrives Friday to open Pac-12 play.

“We have four days off here and four days of practice,” Altman said. “I hope we can put some things together and be ready for Utah.”

Altman headed home to Nebraska to visit family during the short break.

“I won’t eat too much,” he said before leaving Eugene. “Hopefully, we’ll be ready to go on Christmas night.”

Oregon had a few strong all-around performances against Central Arkansas, including Payton Pritchard with 24 points, eight assists and six rebounds. That marked the sixth time in 13 games the sophomore scored in double figures with at least four rebounds and four assists.

Troy Brown had 14 points, four rebounds and four assists against the Bears, while fellow freshman Victor Bailey had eight points, five rebounds and five assists.

“I thought he gave us some energy,” Altman said of Bailey. “That was good.”

Senior transfer MiKyle McIntosh, a 6-foot-7 forward, was 3-for-4 on 3-pointers while scoring a season-high 17 points against UCA. He missed all five 3-pointers in the previous three games as his percentage behind the arc fell to 23.8.

“That really helped us because he had not been shooting the ball well,” Altman said. “He took four good ones and hit three of them. I think he should be right around 35 to 40 percent from 3(-point range).”

Pritchard is the only returning starter for a team whose top seven scorers include three freshmen and three transfers. The Ducks began the season with four wins, then lost three of four before winning five in a row.

“We have a lot of younger guys who got comfortable playing in the system,” sophomore guard Keith Smith said. “We had a lot of adversity to fight through, and we did a good job of that coming off those losses. We learned from those and from the wins.”

Oregon faces no ranked teams in nonconference play, so its best win was 68-61 at Fresno State in the only true road game so far. The Ducks are home for their next two games against Utah and Colorado and then visit Oregon State before making their second trip out of the state to face Arizona State on Jan. 11 and Arizona two days later.

“That was a good win at Fresno, so we know what we have to do on the road and how hard we have to play against a tough crowd,” Smith said. “We still have a long way to go, though.”

Oregon is third in the conference in defense by allowing 70.9 points per game, but it has allowed at least 82 points in two of the past three games.

“Defensively, we need to get better; we have to get stops if we want to win,” redshirt freshman M.J. Cage said. “Especially against top teams in the Pac-12, we will not win by trading baskets.”

The Ducks are second in the conference with 85.3 points per game and have seven players scoring at least eight points per game.

“Offensively, I am not nearly as concerned (as I am) about giving up 82 points and 50 percent from the field and on 3-pointers,” Altman said after Oregon allowed its third-most points on the season against Central Arkansas.