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Nate Bittle made the most of his minutes Tuesday.
The five-star freshman and McDonald’s all-American finally got some extended playing time during Oregon men’s basketball’s 68-59 win against Pepperdine and turned in a performance that coach Dana Altman called, “the difference in the game.”
Bittle finished with eight points, five rebounds and four blocks in 20 minutes as he helped the Ducks absorb the loss of starting center N’Faly Dante, who sat out the second half with a sore left knee.
His points, blocks and minutes played were all season-highs by a considerable margin. His five rebounds tied his season high.
“Coach called my name and I have been ready for this and I just went out there and played as hard as I could,” Bittle said.
Despite his recruiting accolades, the 7-foot center from Central Point has been buried on the bench for much of the season, with Dante starting and sophomore Franck Kepnang the primary reserve in the post.
Bittle didn’t play in two of Oregon’s previous six games and before Tuesday he had only reached double-digit minutes in a game twice when he played 10 against both Chaminade and Montana.
But with Dante out, Bittle played 14 minutes in the second half alone against the Waves, getting four points, three rebounds and four blocks to help the Ducks secure the win.
“It felt good,” said Bittle, the 2020 OSAA Class 5A player of the year for Crater. “Just kind of getting into a little rhythm, being in some pick-and-rolls, blocking shots, everything like that, that’s just something I like to do. So going out there, getting those minutes, getting in that rhythm helped me a lot instead of going in playing a couple of minutes here and there.
“This boosts my confidence a lot, just knowing coach has put a little bit more trust in me now. Just moving on from this point can’t take a step back just gotta keep taking steps forward.”
Bittle’s four blocked shots were the most by a Duck in a single game since seven by Kenny Wooten in 2019. Altman said Bittle also accounted for eight of Oregon’s 20 deflections.
“The defensive end is where he separated himself,” Altman said. “That was really good.”
Now he wants to see more of the same from Bittle.
“We challenged him. ‘You haven’t done that in practice. We need to see it every day so you can do it consistently,’” Altman said. “And he’s capable. His God-given talent is very good. Those long arms, his instincts are good, but you gotta really compete and we earn stuff in practice. And that’s for all the guys.”
The team is on a short break for Christmas, with their next game scheduled for Dec. 30 against Colorado and the resumption of the Pac-12 season.
The Ducks (7-6) are already 0-2 in conference play with losses to Arizona State and Stanford. Getting a player of Bittle’s caliber on track and contributing in a meaningful way — especially on defense — could give Oregon a much-needed boost.
“He got a chance (Tuesday) and he took advantage of it,” Altman said. “Now bring it on the 26th when we start practice, and the 27th, and earn those minutes because, again, he was very impressive (Tuesday) and I think he was the difference in the game.”
Follow Chris Hansen on Twitter @chansen_RG or email at email@example.com. For more sports coverage, visit registerguard.com. Want more stories like this? Subscribe to get unlimited access and support local journalism.
Oregon vs. Colorado
8 p.m. Dec. 30 at Matthew Knight Arena. TV: Pac-12 Networks. Radio: KUJZ-FM (95.3).
This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Oregon Ducks five-star freshman Nate Bittle shines in extended playing time