Eugene, Ore. -- About halfway through the conference schedule, Oregon men's basketball is leading the Pac-12 with only one major blemish on their record: a loss to Washington State in Pullman. After that slip up in the Palouse, the Ducks have ripped off three straight wins and head to the Bay Area for the start of a three game road trip. But head coach Dana Altman knows that the first game at California will not be easy.
"They play well at home," Altman says. "They're 9-2 at home, 3-0 in the conference and [Matt] Bradley has been a load. He's big bodied, athletic, can put it on the floor, can shoot the three. They control the pace, they've kept the score down to where they want to keep it so it'll be a big challenge for us."
The 6 foot 4, 220 pound senior guard has led the Golden Bears with 17.3 points per game on 43.6% shooting and 5.2 rebounds per game. In the last two games, Cal has held their opponents to just 50 points per game and as a team have made a substantial effort to slow down the pace of play as much as possible. Which means that converting on the limited attempts will be as necessary as using defense to create free possessions.
"I think I can just space the floor," says senior guard Anthony Mathis on his role in that Cal game. "If shots are going it'll help us all spread the floor, Peyton and Chris were making shots last game and you saw how spread the floor was, so hopefully we can continue that."
Mathis has struggled immensely since Pac-12 play started, shooting 22 percent from the field, moving to the bench and not eclipsing double digit points since December 29th, 2019 vs. Alabama State. Despite the lack of offensive production, the senior transfer has found ways to contribute in other ways, and showed nice signs of life in the Ducks 96-75 win over UCLA last Sunday.
"I just keep moving off the ball," Mathis explains. "I'm really trying to put more effort into hustle plays. Try to take some charges, dive on the ball, go get some rebounds. Just trying to do other things than shoot."
While Mathis hopes to rediscover his shooting form, the Ducks will be relying on guard Payton Pritchard and forward Chris Duarte. Duarte, in particular, took home Pac-12, Naismith and Oscar Roberton Player of the Week honors this week after his best two game stretch of the season. The junior put in a 30 point, 11 rebound and 8 steal performance against USC followed up with a 24 point, 6 rebound, 5 assist and 6 steal game versus UCLA.
Since January 11th, Duarte has averaged over 5 steals per game, which has translated to free offense for him and his teammates, even when his shot hasn't been falling in certain games. And for his head coach, who hangs his hat on defensive effort, Duarte's performances have been extremely encouraging.
"Chris has really played hard, he's played well," says Altman. "A lot of his offense is generated by his defense. That's where he used his length and his athleticism...those are extra baskets and those are baskets we don;t have to run a set for or don't have to take a possession, those are extra possessions. So it takes a shot away from them and gives us one more. That's a pretty good deal."
The Ducks take on Cal Thursday night at 6:00 p.m and will be on the Pac-12 Network.