Eugene, OR – The Pepperdine Waves came into Matthew Knight Arena Tuesday night riding a three-game winning streak, looking for a fourth against the Oregon Ducks. Oregon was trying to get back in the win column after losing a hard-fought battle against the No. 1 team in the country, the Baylor Bears. Will Richardson played 38 minutes, scored a game high 19 points, and added seven assists to guide the Ducks to a 68-59 win to end the non-conference schedule, before relaunching into Pac-12 play.
Halfway through the opening half, Oregon trailed 25-18 due to a sluggish start offensively. As a team, the Ducks were shooting 7-for-22 from the field and had eight turnovers. The Waves took advantage of Oregon miscues. Jade’ Smith, a 6-4 senior, went a perfect 3-for-3 shooting in the opening half, to score seven points and also get three steals. He made timely decisions to attack the hoop, mostly scoring at or around the basket, using a soft touch over the big men. He ended the contest with 13 points (6-of-10 FG), three rebounds and the three steals.
Oregon finally hit their stride late in the first half, starting with a 3-pointer from junior, De’Vion Harmon, which was his only field goal make in the game. Harmon scored eight points on 1-for-7 shooting. After the 3-pointer, Franck Kepnang got in the action with a hook shot over his defender. Next, the 6-11, 250-pound center took a charge on the defensive end, and then came right back down with a two-handed dunk. His inspired play launched the Ducks into a 12-0 scoring run to take a 30-25 lead. They would go into the half leading 37-33. Kepnang tallied six points (2-for-4 FG) and three rebounds in just 12 minutes of action. Kepnang has made improvement to his all-around game in a short time with the Ducks. Even though he is a sophomore, he has only been on the team since last December, where he reclassified.
Late in the first half, Will Richardson hit a 3-pointer from the right corner which empowered his solid all-around performance. He found his groove running the offense, taking advantage of mismatches to score around the basket, and setup his teammates for easy buckets. When Richardson plays well, the Ducks seem to be more in sync offensively, even if they are struggling to shoot well from the perimeter. Oregon for the game, shot 4-for-18 on 3s, but made up for it by dominating the paint. They outscored the Waves 44-26 in the paint due to Richardson’s ability to penetrate and convert on short jumpers or finish with the left-handed lay-in. His 19 points came on 7-of-14 shooting and he also added four rebounds.
In the second half, the Waves, struggled to score the basketball. Oregon stepped up the pressure defensively holding the Waves to 26.3 percent shooting (35 FG%) and 1-for-12 on 3s (5-for-26 3s for the game). Jan Zidek, a 6-9 power forward, matched his season average of 13 points. He tried shooting Pepperdine to the win, but he went 5-for-16 from the field, including 1-of-8 on 3s. Victor Ohia Obioha pieced together a nice game, chipping in 10 points (4-for-7 FG) and eight rebounds off the bench. He scored most of his points on putback lay-ins. The Waves stayed within striking distance throughout the contest until the final three minutes of the game where they failed to make a field goal.
The dip in shooting percentage, were partly due to the surprise play of Oregon freshman, Nathan Bittle. A highly-touted recruit out of high school, Bittle has not played much to start the season, but had an opportunity due to Kepnang getting into foul trouble and N’Faly Dante leaving the game with knee discomfort. At 7-0, the Oregon native, has a great feel for the game at both ends of the floor. His skinny frame is deceiving, but he makes up for it with his length and ability to timely block and alter shots. He had season highs with eight points (4-for-6 FG), five rebounds, and four blocked shots in 20 minutes of play.
Other contributions for the Ducks came from Jacob Young and Quincy Guerrier. Young added 10 points (4-for-9 FG), six rebounds and two steals. He put pressure on the defense attacking the hoop with a plethora of moves. He utilizes the in and out dribble well and quickly hesitates to throw his defender off-balance, before exploding for a finish at the rim. Guerrier hit a 3-pointer with 1:18 left, to give the Ducks a nine-point lead at that point (64-55). Guerrier was not effective shooting the ball, but his 3-pointer sealed the win. The 6-8 junior demonstrated his drive to crash the boards, by pulling down nine rebounds to go with his nine points (4-for-12 FG). The Ducks played more cohesive basketball down the stretch and took advantage of the 18 Pepperdine turnovers. They scored 22 points off those turnovers helping Oregon overcome a slow start for the win.
Oregon (7-6, 0-2) will get back to conference play at home, after the holiday break, against Colorado (9-3, 1-1) on December 30th. Pepperdine (5-9, 0-0) will host Westmont (10-3, 2-3) on December 23rd in an exhibition game.