The Fast Break: Where did the defense go?
On Oregon's problem with the defensive end, Kario Oquendo's spark, Tony Stubblefield's future and a big game coming up for the Beavers.
EUGENE — ”Giving up 80 drives me crazy” says Oregon coach Dana Altman as he glances down at the hardwood, tugs at an earlobe and cracks a slight grin.
“And some of the easy baskets we give up,” he adds on this Tuesday afternoon, right after a practice that was heavily focused on the defensive end of the floor. The Ducks (13-5, 5-2 Pac-12) are getting healthier and in spite of last week’s 0-2 mountain road trip, have positioned themselves near the top of the conference by way of a top-40 offense nationally.
But Altman doesn’t think they’re playing hard enough.
Not where it matters, anyway.
“We're just not as committed on the defensive end as we need to be,” he said of the Ducks, who boast the second-worst scoring defense in the conference.
Altman knows it starts with effort, however. N’Faly Dante, still relatively fresh off his eight-week injury-hiatus, is his exemplar.
In an 86-70 loss to Colorado last Thursday, Dante scored just seven points and collected five rebounds. Late in the second half, Oregon already trailing by 10, the center sat back in the paint, his hands rested on his knees and his conditioning still not apace his ambition, watching as Buffaloes’ freshman Cody Williams blew by him for a layup.
But Sunday, against Utah?
“Dante played at another level,” says Altman. “There's playing to win, and playing. And N’Faly Dante plays to win. I mean, he's been out eight weeks, and he looked like the only conditioned, tough, hard-nosed guy we had.”
Dante scored 23 points, adding 10 rebounds, six assists, a pair of blocks and one steal. Altman knew what he was watching in real time, but found himself even more impressed upon reviewing the film. It doubled as the source of his discontent with the overall defensive effort. If Dante, in just his fourth game of the season, could be such a presence, what’s stopping the rest of the roster?
Altman made it clear the roster’s improving health won’t fix errors that have plagued this team since November. The perimeter defense is porous. And with Arizona State and No. 9 Arizona set to stop through Eugene this week, two critical opportunities for Oregon to bolster a resumé on the brink of a March Madness bid, it’s exacting enough a task that Altman couldn’t help but chuckle Tuesday afternoon.
“We got to get better,” he says. “We know that we can’t give up 80.”
It’s always been attack-first for Ducks senior Kario Oquendo.