Long Layoff Ends Thursday Night
Beauty on Thursday night will be in the eye of the beholder.
The Oregon men's basketball team will return to action in Matthew Knight Arena on Thursday, when the Ducks host Washington State (8 p.m., FS1). Since a win Jan. 9 at Utah, the UO men have played just one game, and their practice Wednesday was just the fifth since the Utah game, all owing to two nearly successive pauses due to COVID-19 protocols.
Oregon's only game in the last four weeks was a loss Jan. 23 to Oregon State. The Ducks (9-3, 4-2 Pac-12) didn't have their legs in that one, and they probably won't Thursday against the Cougars, due to down time from the protocols.
Against the Beavers, being worn down physically led to the Ducks being worn down mentally, UO coach Dana Altman believes. Thursday against the Cougars (10-7, 3-7), he doesn't want to see that happen.
"It's going to be an ugly game," Altman predicted. "We're just going to have to fight through it."
The Ducks got a preview in practice Tuesday. In that workout, Altman said, "we didn't practice well, maybe, but we practiced hard." He wants to see the same come Thursday night.
"Our biggest challenge is to keep 'em going," Altman said. "When things don't go right, like they didn't against Oregon State, guys go into a little bit of a panic. They have to prepare themselves to know it's not going to go perfect. We just have to keep plugging away, trying to make the right plays."
Junior Eric Williams Jr., who is third on the team in scoring and second in rebounds, has yet to resume practice due to COVID-19 protocols and won't play Thursday, Altman said. But leading scorer Chris Duarte and leading rebounder LJ Figueroa should be back after missing the Oregon State game.
Guard Will Richardson has progressed to light shooting in practice, as he recovers from a thumb injury. Altman anticipates Richardson playing in a game at some point relatively soon.
Having Duarte and Figueroa back will help the Ducks stay as fresh as possible as they play for just the second time in nearly a month. Altman said he'll substitute more frequently and make other adjustments Thursday to keep the Ducks from wearing down like they did against Oregon State.
But the bottom line is, players might need to play a few more minutes than they're conditioned for due to the layoffs. And they'll need to fight through the mental challenge of not playing a particularly clean game because of lost practice time.
All of that said, Altman's long-term goals for the Ducks this season haven't changed, he said.
"We've just got to fight through it here," Altman said. "We've been thrown a curve that as a coaching staff we haven't experienced. Our players are really in a tough spot. But we've got six weeks here (prior to the NCAA Tournament) to try to get it right."