The Oregon men's basketball season has undergone a rebirth this past month.
Once a .500 team with a handful of humbling losses, the Ducks are winners of five straight, including a pair of road victories against then-top-5 teams, and have ever-increasing postseason possibilities.
Leading the way is point guard Will Richardson, who returned from the long holiday break at the end of December more determined than ever to be Oregon’s guiding force.
“I think he finally got a little frustrated with the way things were going,” coach Dana Altman said. “He’s really done a good job, talking in the huddles, reinforcing what the coaches have to say and it just kind of brings everybody together.”
Oregon (11-6, 4-2 Pac-12) returns to the court Sunday with a 7 p.m. game against Washington (9-7, 4-2) at Matthew Knight Arena.
The Ducks have lost just once in their last seven games, while the Huskies, led by the conference’s leading scorer in guard Terrell Brown Jr. (21.4 per game), have won three straight, including 82-72 against Oregon State on Thursday.
Oregon was scheduled to play Washington State on Thursday but the Cougars had to postpone due to COVID-19 protocols.
“Washington’s playing really good so we’re going to have to be ready to go on Sunday evening,” Altman said.
Richardson, a 6-foot-5 senior who was a preseason all-Pac-12 selection, is leading Oregon in scoring at 14.4 points per game. However, during the Ducks’ five-game win streak, he’s averaging nearly 20 points per game and shooting 55% from the field and 52% from the 3-point line.
In Oregon’s last game, a 79-69 victory against then-No. 5 Southern California in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, Richardson scored 19 in the first half en route to a career-high 28-point performance. His previous career best came on Jan. 1 against Utah when he scored 26, including 22 in the second half as the Ducks rallied from a halftime deficit to beat the Utes.
On Monday he was named the Pac-12 player of the week for the second time in three weeks.
Historic road win: Oregon men's basketball makes history with win against No. 5 USC
Richardson long ago shook off his slow start to the season, which included a stretch of four games in late November when he averaged just 4.5 points and had his first scoreless since his sophomore season. The Ducks went 1-3 in those games.
Richardson found his shooting touch soon after and has now found his voice, as the naturally quiet star is embracing the leadership expected of a veteran player whose 102 games played and 58 starts in an Oregon uniform are far more than any other player on the team.
The Ducks' other four starters — Jacob Young, De'Vion Harmon, Quincy Guerrier and N'Faly Dante — have played a combined 84 games with 63 starts for Oregon.
"You don’t have to say a lot, you just have to make sure that the guys understand that this is the direction we gotta go," Altman said. "You know, ‘I’m all in, you guys gotta get all in. We gotta go this way.’ What he’s done is brought everybody together in that regard and kind of gave us a direction.”
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. Washington
Projected Oregon (11-6, 4-2 Pac-12) starters
De'Vion Harmon, 6-2, Jr. (10.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
Will Richardson, 6-5, Sr. (14.4 ppg, 3.3 apg)
Jacob Young, 6-3, Sr. (11.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg)
Quincy Guerrier, 6-8, Jr. (8.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
N'Faly Dante, 6-11, Jr. (8.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Projected Washington (9-7, 4-2) starters
Terrell Brown Jr., 6-3, Sr. (21.4 ppg, 4.1 apg)
Emmitt Matthews Jr., 6-7, Sr. (11.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
Jamal Bey, 6-6, Sr. (9.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
Daejon Davis, 6-3, Sr. (8.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg)
Nate Roberts, 6-11, Jr. (3.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
Time: 7 p.m. Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena
TV/Radio: FS1/KUJZ-FM (95.3)
This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Will Richardson's steady hand behind Oregon men's basketball surge