Eugene, OR – Despite being challenged heavily in the first half, Oregon managed to put together a strong run in the second to garner a needed victory over Washington State. The Cougars came out a blistering 15-of-17 FG to start the game, coming into halftime with a 39-35 lead. The Ducks had three double-digit scorers in the second half in Kenny Wooten, Louis King and Paul White, assisting on 13 of their 16 second half field goals and notching a 78-58 victory. In a game that saw only 21 total fouls (13 by WSU, 8 by Oregon), it also might have given a sense of how the Ducks will be most effective, while also showcasing the talent at the helm of Washington State’s two leading scorers.
Louis King has cracked double digits scoring in all seven of Oregon’s conference games and was a major catalyst to the Ducks second half renaissance. King finished the game with 22 points on 8-of-11 FG (4-6 3PT), making his only two free throws and scoring 13 of his points in the second half. He was very dangerous from the corners or the high post, though his most crucial baskets were a pair of transition finishes that took the game from a 44-44 tie to a 48-44 lead that gave Oregon big momentum, keeping them in front for the rest of the game. Both of his assists led to Payton Pritchard’field goals, including a steal on the press and a bounce pass with english leading to an easy Pritchard lay-in.
It was definitely a process for King to get back from his MCL injury that kept him out most of his high school season last year until his December 8th Ducks debut, but he has at times looked like the best player on the floor in a number of Oregon’s conference games. This definitely seemed to be the case in this contest, as his sweet jumpshot was on full display. He was under control for a majority of the game and he displayed ability to guard multiple positions. He has been particularly solid playing the “4” for Oregon, though has shown that he has enough ability to also play on the perimeter in the Ducks big line-up. This game moved King up to averaging 17.9 ppg in Pac-12 play with shooting splits of 50/42.9/76.5.
This game also saw the offensive awakening of Kenny Wooten, who had been held to single digit scoring in his previous seven games. Wooten scored 14 of his 20 points (8-10 FG, 4-5 FT) in the second half, saying that the coaching staff had challenged him to be more aggressive on offense. He also recorded three blocked shots, showing off the explosive athleticism that has him among the top leaping big men in the nation. While his ball skills are still rudimentary, Wooten seemed the most comfortable he has been since he was made to wear a mask after breaking his jaw in the Baylor game. He played 26 minutes, started in the second half and it would not be surprising to see him back in the starting lineup for the rest of the season if he maintains his health.
Despite his ankle issue, Paul White yet again was a key component for the Ducks. He stretched the floor, attacked a few close outs and had some great finesse finishes. With White and Pritchard as the Ducks two most reliable offensive players after King, it was good to see White step up to the challenge and hold his own with the likes of Pac-12 leading scorer Robert Franks. Pritchard once again struggled shooting, as he finished only 2-of-10 FG (1-7 3PT), though he contributed in a couple of other major ways. Pritchard finished with a Matt Knight Oregon record of six steals, his eight assists that put him over the 400 mark for his career and he did not turn the ball over. Pritchard seems to be picking his spots since Pac-12 play has began, dribbling much less than usual and not necessarily looking for his shot quite as often. While it seems like a good idea to defer to King as the main offensive option, it also would be great to have the more confident Pritchard looking for and creating his own shot at times during Oregon offensive stagnation.
Washington State got a combined 35 points in the first half from Robert Franks, freshman CJ Elleby and big man Jeff Pollard. Pollard (4.2 ppg), scored eight in the first half and 10 on the game on 5-of-5 shooting. Franks finished a perfect shooting first half with 15 points on 6-of-6 FG (2-2 3PT), his lone FT coming on an and one lay-up, while he also handed out three assists. He has a soft shooting touch, some ability to put the ball on the floor and a wide body. While he seems to be closer to 6’8 or so as opposed to his listed 6’9, his offensive efficiency on the year has been impressive, as he leads the conference in scoring at 21.2 ppg. His ability as a “point forward” seems to be somewhat of an overstatement, as he rarely brings the ball up against pressure and seems to pass it off to the nearest PG once he gets the ball past half court, but he still has good hands and vision which led to his first half demolition of the Ducks. Franks finished with 19 points and fiv5 rebounds, as he was held in check in the second half, only leaving the game once it was well out of hand.
Elleby was another major reason the Cougars maintained an early lead on Oregon and showed he was well up to the challenge of facing Oregon’s guards. He scored 12 points (5-7 FG) in the first half, with five rebounds and four assists as well. He was surprisingly physical, very confident and while his shot comes from behind his head and across his body, he hit a couple from long range. Elleby’s shot selection in the second half left something to be desired and he finished with five turnovers, but still posted an impressive end of game stat line with 15 points, eight rebounds (4 offensive) and seven assists. He is already a legitimate Pac-12 player and someone the Cougars can rely on to make plays. His future definitely seems bright and he should be among the Pac-12’s leading scorers as a sophomore. His decision making, shot selection and ability off of the bounce will be things to work on for next year, but he is already 8th in the Pac-12 in scoring now and the leading freshman scorer. He has vision, confidence and was quite aggressive in a strong performance despite the loss.
Oregon is on the road this week playing Utah on Thursday and Colorado on Saturday. The Ducks have been a pretty slow starting team for a majority of the season and at times have had a tough time getting baskets since the loss of Bol Bol to a season ending stress fracture in his left foot. Oregon kept the turnovers to a relative minimum in this one and starting guards Pritchard and Will Richardson had 14 assists to 0 turnovers. Richardson moving into the starting line-up seemed to take a lot of pressure off of Pritchard and led to a huge day for the front court players offensively. With Wooten getting used to wearing the mask he will have to sport the entire year, King rounding into form and White hopefully recovered from the ankle issue that had slowed him in the previous game against Washington, they should have a strong starting group heading into this tough road trip that could determine whether the Ducks can make a run at the middle of the Pac-12.