It was a typically toned-down message from Dana Altman in the locker room after Oregon survived a frenzied final few moments to defeat Arizona 74-73 in overtime on Thursday.
“I told them I was proud that they found a way to grind it out, but they have to understand that there is so much more there,” the UO men's basketball coach said. “If we don’t put demands on ourselves and each other, then we won’t find out how good we can be. That is our challenge moving forward.”
The ninth-ranked Ducks (13-3, 2-1) move forward to host Arizona State (10-5, 1-1) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Matthew Knight Arena.
“We’ve got to stay focused, this one is over and we have a big one because we know Arizona State is coming for us,” Oregon sophomore forward Francis Okoro said. “Last year, they came in here and we beat them so they don’t want that to happen. We have to refocus and do the same things we did tonight, but try to reduce our turnovers. Play together and more as a team on Saturday.”
The variety of Oregon’s 10 turnovers were among Altman’s talking points after beating the 24th-ranked Wildcats.
“The exciting thing is that it’s January 9th and we have got so many things to work on, we can get so much better,” he said. “Our execution has to get better, our communication on defense needs to get better. We had some bad turnovers, so a lot of things to work on. I hope the guys will work hard to improve after a win because after a loss, sometimes you focus better. We need to get better after a win.”
Oregon got an improved performance against Arizona from 6-foot-11 center N’Faly Dante, who had 10 points to go with career highs of five rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes. The freshman was 5-for-6 from the field to boost his shooting percentage to 60.6% in six games.
“He’s by far our go-to guy inside, great hands and size,” Altman said. “He’s going to be really important to us, no doubt about it. Everyone can see how good he is and there’s a lot more there. We’ve got to get it out of him. He’s got to come to work every day, get in better shape and pick some things up.”
Dante, a five-star recruit who graduated high school a year early, has been with the Ducks for less than a month after the NCAA did not clear him to join the Ducks until winter term. He has yet to play more than 22 minutes in a game while picking up four fouls in each of the past four games.
“When he’s down in the post, give it to him,” Oregon sophomore guard Will Richardson said. “He’s a great basketball player. We’ve definitely had to adjust knowing that we’ve got another big who is dominant on the block.”
Arizona had a 16-2 edge on points in the paint while building a double-digit lead in the first half, but Dante helped the Ducks turn that around for a 36-30 advantage in the game. That’s an example of an in-game improvement Altman cited as he seeks similar upticks on the season.
“We’ve got a whole month until February and then another until March,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”