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Stifling Defense Helps Ducks Win On Bittersweet Afternoon

Dec 19, 2020

Oregon-Portland Box Score | Boxscore

EUGENE, Ore. — On a day the Oregon men's basketball team announced it would be without its starting center due to a knee injury, the Ducks still managed an historic defensive performance in an 80-41 victory over Portland on Saturday in Matthew Knight Arena.

The Ducks held Portland to 21 percent shooting (12-of-56), the best defensive effort by Oregon in arena history. The Pilots scored the fewest points by a UO opponent in MKA since Washington had 40 on Feb. 8, 2018. All of that came despite the absence of center N'Faly Dante, who was determined to have suffered a torn ACL in Thursday's win over San Francisco, which will require season-ending surgery.

Dante was injured in the first half of Thursday's game, and returned to the court after initial suspicions that he had only suffered a hyperextension. Dante wanted to play in the second half as well, UO coach Dana Altman said Saturday, but the staff held him out just to be safe, which proved prescient when an exam Friday showed the torn ligament.

"I thought he was really starting to come along, and then this happens," Altman said. "He's a wonderful young man; I love being around him. One of the most pleasant guys we have. I feel terrible for him."

How It Happened: The Ducks (6-1) eliminated any drama by the Pilots early, leading all the way after Eric Williams Jr. opened the scoring with a layup. LJ Figueroa followed with a rebound-basket, Eugene Omoruyi hit a three-pointer for an 8-3 lead and both Chris Duarte and Amauri Hardy scored during an 8-0 run that made it 19-5. By that point all five starters had scored, and Duarte had 12 points by halftime as the Ducks took a 35-19 lead into the break.

For the second straight game, Oregon played stifling defense coming out of halftime. The Ducks opened the second half with a 15-0 run, and after Portland broke through with two field goals, the UO men went on another run of 10-0 to lead 60-24. That enabled Altman to get minutes for some role players and the rest of his bench.

"I like the way we played today," Altman said. "We played much more connected defensively and did a really good job on the boards."

Who Stood Out: Duarte had 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and on the defensive end had three blocked shots plus two steals. Figueroa had 15 points with six rebounds, and Omoruyi was perfect from the floor with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting. Hardy and Williams each had five assists, and Williams had six rebounds as well.

What It Means: Altman was able to get newly eligible transfer Aaron Estrada 18 minutes of action and also 15 minutes for Lök Wur, two players who will be called on to help fill the minutes Dante was playing. Guard Jalen Terry could see his role expand too, Altman said.

"We're going to have to press those guys into some very meaningful minutes, very quickly," Altman said. "And they're going to have to work their tails off, and play their role."

Notable: With Dante out, the Ducks used a new starting lineup for the first time this season. Figueroa took Dante's spot in the starting five. … Every available player saw action in the game, with Altman playing his non-scholarship players in the final few minutes. Will Johnson had a jumper and two free throws for his first career points, and Gabe Reichle hit a three-pointer with 1:19 left. … Freshman post Franck Kepnang was on Oregon's bench Saturday. Kepnang signed with the Ducks in November and is enrolling for the winter quarter at the university.

Up Next: The Ducks play their Pac-12 home opener against UCLA on Wednesday (noon, ESPN2).