Oregon men's basketball prepared to 'swing away' in matchup against No. 1-ranked Baylor

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Oregon men's basketball coach Dana Altman wasn't exactly in a celebratory mood after Wednesday's win over Portland.

Instead, he wanted to talk about Baylor and the challenges his team will face when the No. 1-ranked Bears visit Matthew Knight Arena at 7 p.m. Saturday.

"Baylor is going to be tough. They’re big and they’re physical," Altman said. "They’re a tough matchup. I told our guys, we’re just going to go swing away. We’ve got to get ready to play as hard as we can for as long as we can.

"They’ve destroyed some teams. Smart teams have played them tough because they match their physicality. They are a physical basketball team and … if we don’t get physical with them, we’re not going to have much fun."

The Ducks (6-5) had some fun in Wednesday's 25-point victory against Portland. N'Faly Dante (20) and De'Vion Harmon (19) had season-high point totals, Quincy Guerrier had 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting and Will Richardson filled the stat sheet with 16 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Previous coverage: Oregon Ducks hammer Portland Pilots in tune-up for weekend showdown against No. 1 Baylor

Oregon guard Will Richardson brings the ball upcourt during Wednesday’s men’s basketball game against Portland at Matthew Knight Arena.
Oregon guard Will Richardson brings the ball upcourt during Wednesday’s men’s basketball game against Portland at Matthew Knight Arena.

Baylor, however, represents a much stiffer challenge than a West Coast Conference opponent. The Bears went 28-2 last season and thumped Gonzaga 86-70 in the NCAA championship game. Baylor is 9-0 this year and beat No. 6 Villanova by 21 points on Sunday. The Bears also have beaten Stanford and Arizona State by a combined 50 points, while Oregon lost to both of those teams earlier this month.

"They’re really good. (Baylor coach) Scott (Drew) does a really good job," Altman said. "He’s been there a long time and he’s kinda been up and down for a few years, then the last couple years, man, they’ve really guarded people and beat people up.

"They’re deep, very physical, very old. Scott figured it out that you’ve got to get old to get good, and they’re old."

The last time a defending national champion played in Eugene was Arizona during the 1997-98 season. The last time a No. 1-ranked team came to town was 2007 when Aaron Brooks hit a game-winning shot against UCLA. Oregon's last two matchups against reigning national champs were a win over Duke in the 2016 NCAA Tournament and a loss to the Blue Devils in Portland in 2010.

Oregon center Franck Kepnang goes up for a shot during Wednesday’s men’s basketball game against Portland at Matthew Knight Arena.
Oregon center Franck Kepnang goes up for a shot during Wednesday’s men’s basketball game against Portland at Matthew Knight Arena.

Baylor's identity revolves around its smothering defense, which is limiting opponents to 54.1 points per game and hasn't allowed more than 63 points in a game all season. Oregon has struggled against physical opponents, scoring 49 points in a loss to BYU, 50 against St. Mary's and 49 against Houston.

"If we’re going to get this back, we’ve got to fight through adversity," Altman said. "Like I told the fellas, we’ve just got to dig out. It ain’t gonna be easy. Our fans are upset, everybody’s upset and I understand that. Believe me, I’m upset too.

"I feel bad for the players because you come here to have fun, you come here to play and we haven’t had much fun. I can’t make it fun unless we get better. There’s just no magic wand where you say, ‘OK, it’s going to be fun now.’ You’re going to have to work your tails off to get better. That’s the only way out of it."

More: Box score from Wednesday's game against Portland

Altman's teams have a history of improving as the season goes on, but this year's squad — with four transfers, two players recovering from injuries and two true freshmen earning significant minutes in the first 11 games — has taken longer to come together.

"I haven’t done a good job putting this team together. It’s nobody’s fault but mine," Altman said. "My assistants have done a great job. This is on one guy. This is on me. I’ve got to get the guys to play harder, I’ve got to get them more connected and we just haven’t done it.

Oregon center N’Faly Dante dunks over a defender during Wednesday’s men’s basketball game against Portland at Matthew Knight Arena.
Oregon center N’Faly Dante dunks over a defender during Wednesday’s men’s basketball game against Portland at Matthew Knight Arena.

"Our communication, our connection is just not what it needs to be. If our guys get connected I think we can make some strides, both offensively and defensively."

Saturday's game represents a huge challenge for Oregon. Baylor will attempt to bully the Ducks in their own house and it remains to be seen how this team will respond to that challenge. The effort, perhaps, is more important than the result.

"Saturday we’re playing Baylor and we know they’re really good defensively, so we’re going to have to really execute our offense and make sure that everyone’s on the same page," Guerrier said. "We have to be connected, that’s going to be the key for the game. We need to talk. We really need to communicate.

"I think that’s really going to help us for the game on Saturday. Communication is going to be a big key for us. We’ve got to play hard. We just have to be connected."

Follow Zack Palmer on Twitter @zpalmer_11 or email at zpalmer@registerguard.com. For more sports coverage, visit registerguard.com.

Oregon vs. Baylor

Projected Oregon (6-5) starters

De'Vion Harmon, 6-2, Jr. (9.5 ppg, 2.2 apg)

Will Richardson, 6-5, Sr. (11.8 ppg, 3.1 apg)

Eric Williams Jr., 6-7, Sr. (9.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

Quincy Guerrier, 6-8, Jr. (8.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

N'Faly Dante, 6-11, Jr. (8.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg)

Projected Baylor (9-0) starters

James Akinjo, 6-1, Sr. (10.6 ppg. 6.0 apg)

Adam Flagler, 6-3, Jr. (8.6 ppg, 2.9 apg)

Kendall Brown, 6-8, Frosh. (12.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg)

Matthew Mayer, 6-9, Sr. (10.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg)

Flo Thamba, 6-10, Sr. (4.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg)

Time: 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18, at Matthew Knight Arena

TV/Radio: ESPN2/KUJZ-FM (95.3)

This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Oregon prepared to 'swing away' in matchup against No. 1-ranked Baylor

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