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Mike Lopresti | | January 16, 2022

Dissecting Oregon's midseason resurgence, after its historic road trip sweep

Andy Katz explains why this season's player of the year race is wide open

First, there was Bad Oregon.

The 81-49 pounding by BYU. “It shouldn’t happen for our program. I’m totally embarrassed,” coach Dana Altman said afterward. The 62-50 loss to Saint Mary’s. The 78-49 steamrolling by Houston. In those three games, the Ducks scored 18, 15 and 19 points in the first half and never shot 40 percent. “How we have regressed in the last two weeks just shocks me,” Altman said after the Houston thrashing.

Then, there was Unlucky Oregon.

An overtime defeat at home to Arizona State was followed by a loss on a buzzer-beater 3-pointer at Stanford. The Ducks had been ranked No. 12 early in the season and been picked to finish second in the Pac-12. The Stanford game left them 5-5.

SCOREBOARD: Follow all men's college basketball action this season here 

Next, came Showing Signs Oregon.

There was another defeat, but this was 78-70 to top-ranked Baylor, and the Ducks made a fight of it. “You look back at the losses we had like BYU and Houston, we didn’t compete. And we got kicked,” said guard De’Vion Harmon, “Tonight we competed, and I’m proud of that . . . but we’ve got to move on.”

And now? Here’s On A Roll Oregon.

The team that was once 6-6 has now won five in a row. November’s ugly ducklings have turned into January’s swans, and they just spent a truly historic weekend in southern California. The Ducks went into Pauley Pavilion Thursday and stunned No. 3 UCLA in overtime 84-81. Two days later, they marched into the Galen Center and dominated No. 5 USC 79-69.

The No. 3 Bruins were the highest ranked opponent Oregon had ever beaten on the road. According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Ducks are only the third team in history to beat two Associated Press top-5 teams on the road in a five-day span, and the first to do it in 46 years. No Pac-12 team had ever swept a road trip against two top-10 opponents.

How is Oregon’s world different? In the mashings by BYU, Saint Mary’s and Houston, the Ducks had only three total players score in double figures in three games. Against UCLA, they had six. Oregon put 45 first-half points on USC, which was fourth in the nation in field goal defense. That was only seven points fewer than the Ducks scored in the first half against BYU, Saint Mary’s and Houston combined.

“Our guys are just playing harder,” Altman told the media after the USC game. “I wish I could act like we invented something here, but we’re just playing harder than we were. I don’t know if that’s guys coming together, but the leadership is definitely a part of it.”

Take senior guard and leading scorer Will Richardson. He produced only eight points against BYU. Only two against Houston. He scored a career-high 28 at USC. He had total 18 points over a 1-3 stretch in November. He’s averaging 19.8 in the current five-game winning streak.

Rutgers senior transfer guard Jacob Young did not reach double figures in eight of Oregon’s first 11 games. He went for 22 against Utah and 23 at UCLA.

It’s been something like that up and down the lineup. After the Houston game, the Ducks were 269th in the nation in field goal shooting. As of Sunday, they were 73rd.

The Oregon offense has not only grown more fiery, but less mistake prone. In points off turnovers, the Ducks were minus-39 against BYU, Saint Mary’s and Houston. They were plus-17 against UCLA and USC.

The contrasting numbers could go on all day, but only one area is really important. A record once a shoddy 6-6 is now a promising 11-6, and what was 0-2 in the Pac-12 is now 4-2.

“We needed a big week,” Altman said. “We know that, and our guys knew that. I’ve been talking about a sense of urgency since before the Baylor game. We can’t bury ourselves any further. We still don’t have any room for error. We have to bring it every night and that sense of urgency is going to have to come every night.”

The Ducks’ resurgence was part of yet another weekend that showed how college basketball fortune can be so . . . fluid. Seven top-25 teams lost to unranked opponents Saturday, four on their own court. In five days, Baylor went from unbeaten and No. 1 to losing back-to-back in Waco and a tie for third in the Big 12. Northwestern had not beaten Michigan State in East Lansing in 13 years, but did this time, even without its injured leading scorer.

RANKINGS: Check out the latest AP poll

Michigan, once ranked No. 4 in the nation, lost again and is now 7-7 and 11th in the Big Ten. Louisville is 10-7 after dropping three consecutive ACC games by a total of 37 points. Texas Tech had beaten a Big 12 gauntlet of No. 6 Kansas, No. 1 Baylor and Oklahoma State in six days, but possibly worn out by the exertion, lost to last-place Kansas State by 11 points. Tennessee, with a defense that had limited past opponents to barely 60 points a game and held South Carolina to 46 earlier in the week, coughed up 107 to Kentucky. It’s not every day you see a team shoot 53 percent and lose by 28 points, but the Vols just did.

Florida Gulf Coast, 12th in the nation in 3-pointers and normally the most dangerous long-range team on the court, was done in 78-75 by the firepower of a 5-9 Liberty senior. Darius McGhee hit eight of them for part of his 48 points, the most scored by a Division I player so far this year. McGhee had 37 points in the second half. That’s more than all but 16 players have scored in a game this season.

And in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the McNeese Cowboys played a game in their own Legacy Center for the first time in 689 days. Hurricane Laura blew through in August of 2020, doing $20 million of damage to the place. After the storm, and rebuilding and a pandemic, the Cowboys finally came home Saturday -- and beat Houston Baptist 78-75 on Zach Scott’s 3-pointer with .4 seconds left. Call it karma not to be denied. “I didn’t know who was going to take the shot,” Scott said. “but knew whoever did was going to make it.”

So one theme continued this weekend in college basketball; how bad news can follow good, or vice versa. From Louisiana to Oregon.

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