UC Irvine-Oregon Preview
Oregon has played well while waiting for two projected starters to take the court for the first time this season.
The No. 13 Ducks could be even better starting Tuesday night when sophomores Dominic Artis and Ben Carter are expected to return from their NCAA suspensions to face visiting UC Irvine.
Despite those absences, Oregon (9-0) is off to its best start since winning the first 13 games in 2006-07.
"There's still some things we want to work on, but the undefeated part is real good," said senior Mike Moser, who had 14 points and nine rebounds in his hometown of Portland on Saturday in a 71-64 victory over Illinois.
Artis averaged 8.5 points and 3.2 assists while starting 25 of 28 games last season. The 6-foot-8 Carter played in all 37 contests and averaged 2.4 points with 2.3 rebounds in 2012-13. The two, however, were slapped with nine-game suspensions for selling team apparel.
Though their return should boost a squad that's second in the nation averaging 89.1 points and fourth with a 53.2 field-goal percentage, coach Dana Altman is expected to ease both into the lineup.
"We're not going to start them right away," he said. "We're going to work them in."
To this point, Altman made sure the Ducks' collective focus was on how to succeed with the players he had on the floor and not on those who weren't.
"If I'm going to tell the team we've got to stay focused on getting better every day, it's pretty hard for a coach to look ahead (to Artis and Carter coming back)," Altman told the school's official website. "There's so many variables that can change game to game, week to week."
Artis' return could trim the minutes of 5-foot-8 senior point guard Johnathan Loyd, who has stepped up to average 11.1 points - double his career mark - and a Pac-12-best 7.3 assists.
Along with Loyd, Moser and fellow transfer Joseph Young have paced Oregon's early success. Young, a junior guard who spent his first two seasons at Houston, is averaging a team-leading 19.4 points and shooting 54.0 percent. Moser played the past two seasons with UNLV after one at UCLA, and now tops Oregon with 7.6 rebounds per game while averaging 14.9 points.
Moser totaled 38 points and 19 rebounds as the Ducks struggled to win their last two games. They needed overtime in a 115-105 win at Mississippi on Dec. 8 and overcame a nine-point hole to beat an Illinois team that entered with a 9-1 record.
Oregon shot 55.8 percent against the Fighting Illini, but committed 16 turnovers that led to 20 points for its pesky opponent.
"It's a great characteristic to have as a ball team, to be able to turn it up a notch and go," Altman said. "But over the long haul, if you depend on that very often, it's going to bite you.
"I hope we have the maturity to learn from wins, so that we can get a lot better."
Altman hopes the Ducks have an easier time while trying to improve to 4-2 against UC Irvine (6-5). Oregon posted an 84-77 road win in the most recent meeting Nov. 21, 2008.
The Anteaters already have one road win over a Pac-12 foe, 86-72 at Washington on Nov. 14, but have dropped eight straight against ranked opponents since a 79-63 win at then-No. 13 Stanford on Nov. 19, 2005.
At 12.1 points per game, guard Chris McNealy leads four players averaging in double figures for a UC Irvine team that is shooting 48.3 percent.