Oregon's men's basketball team can’t get to full strength on the front line.
The ninth-ranked Ducks expect to be without freshman forward C.J. Walker when they host No. 24 Arizona at 6 p.m. Thursday at Matthew Knight Arena. Walker has battled back and knee injuries during the past couple of weeks and is unlikely to play against the Wildcats or Arizona State on Saturday.
“He’s kind of beat up right now,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “Staying healthy is a big part of this, obviously. We try to work Shakur (Juiston) in and then lose C.J. for a few games. (N’Faly) Dante continues to make progress so that is important.”
The 6-foot-11 Dante missed the first 10 games of the season before being declared eligible. When he joined the Ducks, Juiston was sitting out a month due to a knee injury.
Oregon (12-3, 1-1 Pac-12 Conference) finally had a full roster for Thursday’s 74-65 loss at Colorado before Walker missed Saturday’s 69-64 win over Utah.
“I’m out, Dante comes in, then C.J. comes out, we kind of mix it up,” Juiston said. “But we all play with random people a lot so as long as we know each other and come to practice and play hard, we should grasp how each other plays.”
Juiston, a grad transfer from UNLV, missed five games with an MCL injury before returning to get 15 points and 10 rebounds in 48 minutes during two games last week.
“He’s one of our most physical guys, super strong and a big body,” Oregon guard Anthony Mathis said. “With his experience playing at this level, it is amazing to have him back.”
Dante has picked up four fouls in each of the last three games while playing a total of 51 minutes. He is averaging 6.0 points and 2.0 rebounds during those games.
“He’s got to keep working in,” Altman said. “To be honest, it will probably be another month before he is totally ingrained in what we are doing. He is making strides and that is all we can ask. He’s had a couple good days of practice, so I hope he’s ready to go.”
Starting forward Francis Okoro did not attempt a shot from the field in a combined 28 minutes on the road trip to Colorado and Utah when he totaled one point and four rebounds. Freshman Chandler Lawson matched his season highs with eight points and eight rebounds against Utah.
Arizona is led by 6-11, 240-pound freshman Zeke Nnaji, who is averaging 16.6 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting 69.1% from the field.
“He plays with tremendous energy and is very skilled around the basket,” Altman said. “Sixty percent from the field and finishes everything inside. He’s very physical for a freshman.”
Chase Jeter, a 6-10 senior, is averaging 5.9 rebounds as the Wildcats (11-3, 1-0) outrebound their opponents by an average of 4.3 per game. Oregon has lost the battle of the boards in all three of its losses.
“It is a challenge for our bigs and even our guards,” Juiston said. “Rebounding is a place we go up and down in that category. As long as we come out and do what we need to do and be aggressive, then we should be good.”
As has often been the case in recent years. Oregon and Arizona are the top two ranked teams in the Pac-12 and considered leading contenders for the conference title along with Colorado. The Ducks have won three straight over the Wildcats, including a sweep last season.
“Coach has been saying that we got them the last couple years so they will come in here wanting to get us,” said Mathis, who faced Arizona a couple of times at New Mexico before transferring to Oregon this season. “It will be a battle and we have to fight for 40 minutes.”