The No. 3 team in college basketball will head to Matthew Knight Arena for a Sunday night showdown between the Oregon Ducks (2-1) and the Houston Cougars (4-0). The Ducks know they face may be the toughest challenge they’ll see all season long.
“They are really good. They are two, or three in the country. They should be,” said Oregon head coach Dana Altman of the Houston Cougars. “They are veterans, their guard experience, inside they have big bodies, athletic bodies. Real difficult assignment, bit opportunity, but a very tough team to match up against because of their depth and experience.”
Houston was a preseason favorite to win the national championship, and they’ve lived up to the hype early this season. The Cougars have played four games to date this season and they’ve won each of them by an average of 37 points. The Cougars are also loaded with talent, playing nine players 11 or more minutes per game and 10 players eight or more minutes per game.
The Cougars are one of the most impressive offensive teams this season while also being one of the most dominant defensive teams. They are third in the country in points allowed per game (46) and second (28.4 percent) in the country in opponent field goal percentage per game. Opposing coaches this season have praised how quick and athletic Houston’s defense has been.
“Their length, their quickness there. Getting hands on balls,” Altman said. “I was watching the film the day, and the number of deflections and hands on balls they got, it’s just very impressive.”
Oregon’s season has been up and down. Oregon won in blowout fashion to open the season against Florida A&M to only lose by 13 later in the week to UC Irvine. Tuesday night, the Ducks blew out NCAA Tournament team Montana State, their best performance of the year. Injuries have impacted some of Oregon’s development while newcomers continue to adjust to their roles.
“It’s still a work in progress,” said Altman. “We try to make a few adjustments, try to figure out more sets with some of our bigs, getting them more comfortable playing on the perimeter, which has not been easy to do. I think we’ve been making progress slowly and surely. We just have to figure out 40 minutes with the eight or nine guys that we got, really be active, and compete on the boards.”
Altman praised Houston’s shooting and their effort on the offensive glass and stressed a key of the game will be Oregon’s effectiveness on defense.
“You’re going to ahve to limit them to one shot; try and make that one contested,” said Altman. “The big problem is going and getting it. We have to limit them as best as we can to one shot. That will take a lot of pressure off our defense.”
Altman noted Oregon will need guards Will Richardson and Keesawn Barthelemy to be better at protecting the basketball when Oregon has it, while also creating looks for teammates as well. Richardson this season has averaged 3.7 turnovers per game, while averaging 4.7 assists per game, while Barthelemy is averaging 2.7 assists and 1.7 turnovers.
3-point shooting could be the great equalizer for the Ducks. Altman noted the Ducks have had their ups and downs this season, but against Montana State, things clicked, and then Oregon’s offense opened up.
“You can see we hit a few threes the other day, and that took the pressure off,” said Altman. “We’re not a great 3-point shooting team, but we’re definitely not a bad 3-point shooting team.
“The other day when we hit a few, it gave us a lot of energy.”
The Ducks and Cougars will tip off at 6 pm PT and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.