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Ducks Enter Break On Winning Note

Dec 21, 2021

EUGENE, Ore. — Will Richardson scored a game-high 19 points and Nate Bittle provided a second-half spark off the bench Tuesday as the Oregon men's basketball team wrapped up nonconference play with a 68-59 win over Pepperdine at Matthew Knight Arena.

Three days after gamely battling No. 1 Baylor, the Ducks (7-6) trailed for much of the first half Tuesday. They never trailed after halftime, however, holding the Waves to 26.3 percent shooting in the second half to hang on and win.

"We've got to bring the same energy every game," said Bittle, who had eight points, five rebounds and four blocks in his most extensive contribution so far this season. "It can't change. Every team we play can win a game against us; you don't know. Bringing great energy every game is something we need to work on as a team."

How It Happened: From the start, the Ducks struggled to recapture the energy of their competitive battle with Baylor. Oregon had six turnovers in a little over four minutes to open Tuesday's game, and six straight points by Pepperdine forced UO coach Dana Altman to use a timeout with the Ducks trailing 25-18.

His message was all about defensive intensity, and the Ducks answered the call. They forced three straight turnovers out of the timeout — one a charge drawn by Franck Kepnang — converting those three turnovers into seven points to tie the game, 25-25. That sparked a 12-0 run and Oregon never trailed again, after playing from behind for 11:22 of the first half.

Consistent defensive intensity continues to be a theme for Altman with his team.

"We've gotta change this if we're going to make any kind of move," the UO coach said. "Thirty-two years of doing this, it's the same message; the game doesn't change. … If you're going to be a consistent team, you'd better guard."

Already without Eric Williams Jr. on Tuesday due to a lingering knee issue, the Ducks played the second half Tuesday without starting post N'Faly Dante due to knee discomfort he experienced. Into the void stepped Bittle, who played behind Kepnang in the rotation and had four points, three rebounds and four blocks in the second half.

With Pepperdine down just 57-53, Bittle blocked two shots on one possession and Richardson scored at the other end to provide more cushion. Bittle also blocked a three-point attempt with less than two minutes to play and Pepperdine within six at 61-55.

"Coach called my name, and I've been ready for this," said Bittle, who played more than three times his average of 5.9 minutes per game entering the night. "… It felt good, just kind of getting in a little rhythm. Getting some pick-and-rolls, blocked shots — that's stuff I like to do. Getting in that rhythm helped a lot."

Who Stood Out: Richardson made 7-of-14 shots on his way to 19 points, and also dished out seven assists. Jacob Young added 10 points with six rebounds, and Quincy Guerrier added nine points with nine rebounds.

What It Means: Altman said the number of deflections tracked by his staff in the game was 20, indicating a lack of defensive activity overall by the Ducks. The exception was Bittle, who had eight of the 20, including his four blocked shots — the most by a Duck in a single game since seven by Kenny Wooten in 2019.

"I'm hoping that'll light a fire under Nate, and will inspire our other bigs to challenge more shots," Altman said. "But all our guys have to get a lot more aggressive defensively."

Up Next: The Ducks open Pac-12 play by hosting Colorado on Dec. 30 (8 p.m., Pac-12 Network).