On Dec. 7, Dana Altman asked his players to speed up their sense of urgency.
“On Jan. 7, we need to be a heck of a lot better and on Feb. 7, we need to be a heck of a lot better, and on March 7, we need to be a heck of a lot better,” the Oregon coach said the day before the Ducks defeated Nebraska-Omaha 84-61.
Oregon is two-thirds of the way through those deadlines and the coach’s message remains the same.
“I told the guys, it is February, but we still have a lot of new players,” Altman said following Wednesday’s 73-62 win over California. “Lou (King) missed the first seven games and Miles (Norris) did not start playing until December. Francis (Okoro) is a freshman, so we have a lot of new parts. Even though it is February, we have got to have a sense of urgency. Moving the ball, running stuff, executing stuff and putting pressure on ourselves to be in the right spot and do the right thing.
"Hopefully, we make a big step in the next couple weekends and continue to get better. I think there is a lot more there, but I am disappointed in myself for not getting it out of them.”
One month remains in the Pac-12 schedule as Oregon (14-9, 5-5) returns to Matthew Knight Arena to host Stanford (12-10, 5-5) at 5 p.m. Sunday.
The Ducks have won three of their last four games to move into a tie for sixth place in the conference as they prepare to go on the road for five of their final seven games after Stanford.
Even a win over last-place California dropped Oregon three spots to No. 71 in the NCAA’s Net rankings. With their at-large hopes for the NCAA Tournament likely gone, the Ducks will have to win the conference tournament to get an NCAA bid and are currently sitting one game out of a top-four spot that earns a first-round bye next month in Las Vegas.
“This is just growing pains,” Altman said. “Getting everybody on the same page and making better decisions, better plays. We have good guys who want to do the right things, but it is tough. We need to be more demanding of ourselves. It is February, you can’t have 11 turnovers in the first half and you can’t make the same turnovers over and over again.”
Oregon survived 15 turnovers against the Bears that matched its second-most in a win this season. Oregon had 11 turnovers in the first half, but still took a 32-21 lead at the break.
“The goal is always 10 (turnovers),” Altman said. “You are going to make some mistakes and turn it over a bit. When we have been around 10, we have been pretty successful but when we are above that, things don’t happen well.”
Stanford, which is part of the sixth-place tie with Oregon after a 83-60 win at Oregon State on Thursday, starts three sophomores and a freshman along with 7-foot senior Josh Sharma.
“We need to fight the dribble because they are real athletic and long and can get to the basket,” Altman said. “That will be the biggest thing and second is rebounding because that is a big team that rebounds well. We have to be real active defensively and get some hands on passes against them. We are also going to have to score some points because they can get some baskets.”
Six-foot-nine sophomore KZ Okpala leads the Cardinal with 17.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.
“Man, has he taken a big step,” Altman said. “We have some good NBA candidates in the league, but he’s right up there with them. He really gets to the basket and he shoots it OK. His athleticism and length, that’s all the NBA talks about is length and athleticism, and he’s got both of those ingredients.”