EUGENE, Oré. — Less than 48 hours after a lifeless loss at home to Arizona State, the Oregon men’s basketball team bounced back in earnest on Saturday, an 87-68 victory over No. 9 Arizona ahead of 7,970 fans in the Matthew Knight Arena.
Jerome Couisnard scored 27 points in his first start of the season for the Ducks (10-8, 4-3 Pac-12), making 6 of 9 three-pointers on the day. N’Daly Dante added 22 points and 10 rebounds, Will Richardson had 14 points with five assists and four steals, and Keesawn Barthelemy contributed five points, six rebounds and five assists.
Dante got the party started at Matthew Knight Arena with a steal and highlight dunk over Arizona’s Kerr Kriisa a minute into the game. Hours later, the party ended with members of the Oregon Pit Crew dancing on Center Court in celebration of the explosion.
“It was a bit personal today – their big guy (Oumar Ballo) is from Mali and I’m from Mali,” said Dante, who also had three interceptions and two blocks. “I just wanted to get a ‘dub’. I had a mindset before their game, we played them last year and they beat us by threes; it won’t happen again. I was just worried about a foul. This one I was like, you know what, I’m going to do whatever my team needs.”
Saturday’s performance was personal for the OU coach Dana Altman, too, after Oregon’s deflating loss to ASU two days earlier. Altman said he had an all-nighter Thursday, then tried to gather his thoughts on a drive south on Interstate-5 Friday before practice.
Altman said he almost got to Roseburg before he found some clarity — he wasn’t going to change his message with the Ducks, although he did change his roster and rotations. Couisnard and nate bittle were slotted in as starters and combined for 37 runs with eight threes, while substitutions came quicker to prompt the Ducks to take a more aggressive stance when in the game.
“They were challenged today and they played really well because Arizona is a good team,” Altman said. “Because Arizona is a good team. We played really well today. I’m not sure they played badly. I just think we played really well.”
How did it happen: Dante opened the scoring for Oregon with a dunk that tied the game at 2-2, then stole the ensuing inbound pass, dribbled the ball from midfield and dived over Kriisa. The Ducks spent their entire Thursday game against ASU looking for a spark like that. In the first minute on Saturday, they had it.
“When we saw him come down the hall and do that, it gave us a lot of confidence,” Couisnard said.
With Oregon ahead 7-5, the Wildcats have scored seven straight games. Kel’el Ware hit a base jumper to end the run, but Arizona scored twice more in quick succession to lead 16-9. It was 19-13 when the Ducks exploded into the lead with 10 straight games — one Dante drop, Couisnard three straight and another Dante bucket. Couisnard’s second three was actually a three-quarter field lob attempt to Dante, who sailed over the big man’s head and through the hoop.
“It was the shot that made me lose,” said Couisnard, who missed the first 14 games of the season with injury and only made his UO debut last week. “I knew it was one of those days.”
Four turnovers in OU’s next seven possessions helped Arizona regain the lead, 32-28. But the Ducks held the Wildcats without a basket for the next five minutes and took the lead on a Couisnard three followed by a Dante dunk set up by Richardson. Oregon’s run went to 12-1 during Arizona’s scoreless streak on the field, as Ware flushed an assist from Richardson, Barthelemy stole and set up Richardson for a score and Barthelemy made a three for a 40-33 lead.
.@OregonMBB withdraw upset on No. 9 Arizona??
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) January 15, 2023
The Ducks led 43-37 at halftime, and Arizona quickly tied it after the break with a straight three. But Bittle hit a three that sparked another 10-0 run for Oregon, which included five runs from Richardson. An alley oop from Barthelemy de Bittle took the lead at 13, 63-50.
Perhaps Arizona’s latest threat came on a three-pointer that cut Oregon’s lead to 72-61 with 6:15 remaining. Couisnard responded with a three on the next possession, sparking a 9-0 run by the Ducks to put the game aside.
Notable: Arizona entered the game fourth in the nation with a plus-9.2 rebound margin per game, but the Ducks had a 42-32 advantage on the boards Saturday. … Oregon’s 11 three-pointers and 53.1 percent total shooting were both season-highs in conference play this season. … Dante’s 22 points tied his career high, as did Bittle’s 10 points.
Center for the elderly N’Faly Dante on how the Ducks rebounded from Thursday’s loss
“We arrived at training and everyone was pissed off. We just had to show that, if we show how we are capable of playing, we can be good. I’m glad everyone responded…I know what we are capable. Some days we show it, sometimes not. For me, as a leader, we have to be ready for every game.”
The head coach Dana Altman on the Ducks’ keys to victory
“When we hold people under 70 (points), I think we win about 90% of games. When we pass people, we win about 90% of games. Now I never claimed to be very smart , but 90% is. good. You know, if you play hard, you can accomplish these things even if you don’t shoot well – because you’re not going to shoot well every night. And that’s probably what makes me disappointed; when you don’t hit, you give in.”
Next: The Ducks play at California on Wednesday (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network).