EUGENE, Ore.,- In the closing minutes of a December loss in El Paso, Oregon frontcourt players Arsalan Kazemi and Tony Woods missed crucial free throws that brought the Ducks just their second loss of the season.
In a back-and-forth game, where neither team led by more than eight points, it was Woods and Kazemi who found redemption Sunday, converting 4-for-4 from the free throw stripe in the final minute giving the Ducks a 68-65 win. The win extended the Pac-12’s longest home winning streak to 18 and kept them without blemish in league play on the young season.
“I’ve been working on my free throws since that game,” Woods said. “Coach has been giving me tips on my free throw form and it’s just been getting better and better since that game.”
Those tips appear to have paid off, as Woods improvement has been apparent not just tonight, but each night, going for 13-for-15 since.
“We’re getting more and more confidence with Tony. He’s doing a great job of shooting free throws. You hope those guys [the seniors] will step up there and hit them,” head coach Dana Altman said.
Woods and Kazemi weren’t alone in their struggles at the line versus UTEP, as the team shot just 14-for-29. Sunday, they missed just one, E.J. Singler’s second of two with five seconds remaining in the game.
The Sun Devils had made a transition this offseason to a more up-tempo, aggressive transition game, capitalizing on personnel more capable of doing so than in years past. But Sunday, Arizona State seemed to resort to what has made coach Herb Sendek so successful, slowing down the tempo, never allowing Oregon to get into their usual offensive rhythm.
“We were very fortunate on a night where nothing seemed to click [to get a win]. I’m not sure if it was focus or intensity or what it was, we just never got a very good rhythm going,” Altman said.
“Arizona State’s very good at that. They kind of muck it up a little bit and try to slow things down. They definitely got the pace they wanted.”
Oregon seemed to find one midway through the first half, as once again, Damyean Dotson’s was the answer. The freshman went on a ten-point scoring streak, giving the Ducks a lead heading into the half. He and Carlos Emory were a combined 8-for-12 from the field, the rest of the team a miserable 4-for-20.
But in the second half, Dotson played sparingly, scoring just two points and putting the onus on seniors Emory, Woods and Kazemi to handle things offensively. The trio did just that, scoring 26 of the team’s 36 points, the biggest of which came in the final two minutes.
After the Sun Devils utilized a 13-4 run to surge to a three-point lead late in the game, it was Kazemi who soared in from out of the key to dunk home a Singler miss. From there the Ducks would hang on for the win.
Rebounds, like Kazemi’s, proved crucial to the Ducks’ effort. At the ten minute mark of the second half, the Ducks trailed the Sun Devils by ten on the glass, but outrebouned them by eight down the stretch, finishing with a three-rebound advantage.
“I guess in the past a lot of teams say stuff about us not being able to rebound, but today we won on the boards. We made sure we got those rebounds that we needed,” said Emory, who finished with a game-high eight rebounds. “Tony and Ars [Kazemi} and Wave [Austin] did a good job of blocking the big guy out. So it kind of opened up opportunities for a lot of us wings to get rebounds.”
That big guy, the 7-foot-2 Jordan Bachynski, would factor in greatly to Oregon’s game plan. Bachynski is on track to break the conference record for shot blocks in a season, averaging nearly five per contest. To mitigate that, the Ducks chose to take the contact to him.
“Our game plan was to go at him,” Woods said. “He’s a great shot blocker, but he doesn’t move that well laterally, so our game plan was to go after that.”
Oregon is one of three unbeaten teams in Pac-12 play, joining UCLA and Washington at the top of the conference standings.