Just when N’Faly Dante returned, Chris Duarte was gone.
Oregon’s season-long struggle to get a full roster on the floor continued when Duarte became the latest to leave for an uncertain period of time due to injury.
“We lose one, we get one back, it’s OK,” Oregon sophomore forward Francis Okoro said following Thursday’s 69-54 win over Oregon State at Matthew Knight Arena.
Duarte started his first 28 games for the Ducks, but played the last five after suffering a broken finger on his right hand in practice three weeks ago. Duarte was 13-for-33 from the field, including 3-for-22 on 3-pointers, while averaging 6.2 points during those games.
Oregon announced he had a “procedure” on Thursday that left him with a cast on his hand.
“It is up in the air, whatever the doctors say,” UO coach Dana Altman said when asked about a timetable for Duarte’s return.
Duarte, a junior-college transfer, ranks second on the Ducks with 12.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He’s second in the Pac-12 with 1.7 steals per game.
Anthony Mathis took Duarte’s place in the starting lineup against OSU and made three 3-pointers en route to 13 points in 34 minutes.
“For Anthony, with Chris not playing, I was not as worried about the offense as I was the rebounding and he’s our leader in steals,” Altman said. “At halftime, we were not rebounding well and we did not have any steals. We really miss Chris there. Anthony did a nice of offensively.”
Mathis also had three rebounds and two assists.
“I’m trying to pick it up on defense and rebounding, help out in any way that I can,” said Mathis, a grad transfer who started the first 18 games of the season and ranks fourth on the team with 8.0 points per game. “We are so deep on offense that I am not worried about scoring. I want to do other things to help the team win.”
As usual, Oregon was led in scoring by its backcourt with Payton Pritchard making five 3-pointers while scoring 23 points against the Beavers.
“I think that was Pritchard’s best Civil War game,” OSU coach Wayne Tinkle said.
Oregon sophomore Will Richardson missed his first six shots from the field before scoring all 15 of his points in the second half.
The Ducks welcomed back Dante, who missed the past nine games due to tendinitis in his knee. The 6-foot-11 five-star freshman was 0-for-2 from the field and grabbed two rebounds in five minutes.
“That was all I planned on,” Altman said. “He wanted to play more, but he had not practiced much. I wanted to get him started back on the floor and hopefully he’ll have a good week here and be ready to go a lot more on Thursday night. Cal has got good size and Stanford killed us inside the last time we played them. It would be nice to get him going this week and have him ready.”
Dante, who graduated a year early from high school, was not declared eligible by the NCAA until December and played just nine games before the injury. He could be a key addition during the stretch run for the 14th-ranked Ducks (22-7), who are tied for first place in the conference with UCLA at 11-5 as they prepare to finish the regular season at home against California on Thursday and Stanford on Saturday.
“He’s trouble down there,” Okoro said. “You see teams double-teaming him and playing him hard. Dante is really skilled out there and causes trouble on offense and defense.”
Oregon won’t likely get Duarte back next week and his status for the postseason remains in question.
“We’ve got to make up for his rebounding average and steals,” Okoro said. “Chris plays good defense and knows how to get steals. We have to make up for that, but we have a lot of guys who can do that. We’ve got to keep playing together.”
Oregon has had five players miss a total of 19 games due to injury this season. In addition, Dante was ineligible for 10 games and Okoro missed the loss at Oregon State to return home for his father’s funeral in Nigeria.