It may be the first week of December, but No. 18 Oregon already finds itself in a make-or-break situation, according to point guard Payton Pritchard.
Last week, the Ducks entered their game against Texas Southern a 24.5-point favorite. But after giving up 57 second half points, Oregon fell 89-84, casting doubt on what was supposed to be a good season for the Pac-12 favorites.
“This is a terrible loss," Pritchard said after the game. “We’re going to turn around our season right here — either we move on from this and get better, or we don’t."
Where Oregon (4-2) struggled most was on the defensive end, particularly rebounding. The much taller and more athletic Ducks were out-hustled and pushed around by the Tigers, being outrebounded 41-32 and 11-6 on the offensive end.
"Stops and rebounds don't mean a lot to us and in the college game, they've got to mean a lot more," Oregon head coach Dana Altman said after the loss. "We've got to change our whole mindset and focus in on the defensive end and the rebounding.”
The schedule doesn’t let up as the Ducks encounter their first true road test of the season when they face Houston on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. ET and will air on ESPN2.
The Cougars (5-0), although unranked, are undefeated at 5-0 and riding a 20-game home winning streak. A win by the Ducks would be the marquee nonconference victory they need come Selection Saturday in March.
“Their three-point percentages are off the charts,” Altman said of Houston. “They are a deep group and a tough group. They are opening up a re-done building, so it is going to be a very emotional night for them and a very tough atmosphere.”
Oregon will face an emotional and raucous crowd on Saturday — the game will be the first in Houston’s $60-million renovated basketball arena, the Fertitta Center.
"Saturday's Men's Basketball game will be a historic night for the University of Houston as we add another premier facility to our inventory — we are incredibly grateful for the continued support of our student-athletes," Vice President for Athletics Chris Pezman told Houston’s athletic website.
As a team, Houston shoots 40.3-percent from beyond the arc and dishes out 17.6 assists per game, 25th in the country. The guard-heavy Cougars have three players who shoot over 40-percent from three-point territory.
Corey Davis Jr. leads the team with 20.0 points and 4.2 assists per game while Armani Brooks puts up 14.0 and 5.8 rebounds per game — the only Cougars averaging double-figures. Galen Robinson Jr. averages 6.0 assists per game and shoots 46.2-percent from beyond the arc while Breaon Brady is the big man in the middle, averaging 8.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Oregon will look to counteract Houston’s spread offense with freshman sensation Bol Bol. The 7-foot-2 center had his best career game in last week’s loss, putting up 32 points (4-of-6 from deep) and 11 rebounds. On the season, he’s averaging 21.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game.
Pritchard is the other Duck who played well against Texas Southern. He finished with 14 points and seven assists, upping his season averages to 14.5 points, 5.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game, knocking down 41.7-percent of his shots from three-point territory.
But someone else must step up for the Ducks on the road besides Pritchard and Bol, someone like senior Paul White. He entered the season with a lot of hype but has struggled early on, shooting 28.6-percent from deep and is averaging just 9.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game.
The Ducks get back shot-blocking phenom Kenny Wooten Jr., who left last week’s game with a knee injury in the first half. Wooten’s versatility and physicality on the defensive end was sorely missed, but he’ll be back in the starting lineup on Saturday.