LOS ANGELES- Oregon’s lead played the role of a whoopee cushion Thursday night. The Ducks sat on it and sat on it until it was almost gone.
After an E.J. Singler three gave the Ducks a 10-point lead with 2:59 left in regulation, the Ducks seemed content both offensively and defensively, and then the Trojans struck, cutting the lead to one with 28 seconds remaining.
“Then we got a 10 point lead, and maybe I relaxed a little bit,” said head coach Dana Altman. “I thought our offense got way too conservative there. When we took time everybody stood up and relaxed, and we didn’t execute the play at the end of the shot clock at all.
Fortunately, Oregon (15-2, 4-0) held off the USC in the final seconds, with numerous Trojans shots falling just short, to win 76-74.
On the road sometimes strengths become weaknesses and weaknesses, well, they remain just that. Against arguably the worst offensive team in the conference, the Ducks allowed the Trojans to score in bursts from the field, notably 20 points from J.T. Terrell. The Trojans got off to just a 5-21 shooting performance early in the first half, but shot 52 percent in the second half.
“We did enough to pull away on the offensive end. We scored 70-something points. Defensively we didn’t get the stops we needed. I think that was the big key,” Altman said.
That defensive deficiency was especially evident in the final three minutes, where Oregon did the two things you can’t do with a lead: foul and give up open three point shots.
“I’m more concerned by how quickly they scored. If you’re going to write a way to lose a basketball game, that’s a good way,” Altman said.
What the Ducks did for 37 minutes was outplay USC on nearly every facet of the game. Rebounding. Check. Three point shooting. Check. Turnovers. Check. But it was what the Ducks didn’t do in the final three that was perhaps most concerning.
“We didn’t capitalize and they capitalized on our mistakes. Period,” said point guard Johnathan Loyd.
As has become the Ducks calling card, Oregon’s scoring was balanced. Five players reached double figures, none more than the 16 Damyean Dotson scored. Arsalan Kazemi was back to form on the glass, finishing with a game-high 11 rebounds.
Perhaps the biggest surprise Thursday, was the introduction of a new scoring-threat. Far from an outstanding scorer, Johnathan Loyd had the hot hand early in the first half, matching a season-high of six points by the 11:47 mark of the first half, before finishing with eight.
“I came out in warm-ups and I was shooting, it felt good,” he said. “Then, in the game I got a wide-open three and I let it go. I said ‘Wow’, that felt good. So I just kept shooting.”
Winning on the road is difficult, that is multiplied in conference season. In the first two weekends of Pac-12 play, numerous games were contested in the final seconds, none more notable than Arizona’s controversial win over Colorado two weeks ago.
“There have been so many games that have come down to the last shot. You’ve just got to be prepared to play those types of games,” Altman said.
So, at the end of the night, perhaps the Ducks should count themselves lucky. They remain undefeated in conference play, pick up a crucial road victory and keep their conference lead intact.
“That’s the best part, we’re finding ways to win. That’s what counts,” Loyd said.