Dana Altman has spent most of the season juggling his front court with N’Faly Dante, Shakur Juiston, Francis Okoro and C.J. Walker all missing games due to injury.
Now that he finally got all of his big men healthy, Altman has holes to fill in the backcourt.
Chris Duarte will not return until the NCAA Tournament at the earliest and Will Richardson is a game-time decision when 13th-ranked Oregon (22-7, 11-5) hosts California (13-16, 7-9) at 8 p.m. Thursday. The Ducks need a victory to move back into a first-place tie with UCLA (19-11, 12-5) heading into Saturday’s regular-season men's basketball finale against Stanford.
Richardson, who has started the past 11 games, turned an ankle in last week's 69-54 win over Oregon State, but returned to score all 15 of his points in the second half.
“He played better after he turned it,” Altman said. “He started 0-for-6 and turned his ankle and that slowed him down and got him going at a good pace. We need Will, he’s had a great year for us.”
Richardson, who is averaging 10.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, was in a walking boot during the weekend and did not practice early in the week.
“He says he’s ready, but the trainers wanted to hold him out,” Altman said. “We will see how he feels.”
Duarte had surgery on a broken finger last week and did not play against Oregon State. Altman ruled him out for this weekend and the Pac-12 Tournament.
“After that, we are still keeping the door open,” Altman said of possibly getting Duarte back for the NCAA Tournament. “He’s a tough young man who played through it. It has to be what is best for him so we are not going to take any chances. If the tournament is possible, then great, but if not, we understand that too.”
The 6-foot-6 Duarte ranks second on the Ducks with 12.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game while ranking third in the conference with 1.7 steals.
“We’re still going to get the same number of shots (without Duarte),” Altman said. “I feel like Anthony (Mathis), and if we can get Dante going a bit, we can get a few more buckets inside. I think we can still get the same offensive production, but Chris’ steals and rebounds are awfully hard to replace.”
Mathis, a senior, will likely replace Duarte in the starting lineup once again after scoring 13 points against OSU, his highest output in nearly two months. The graduate transfer from New Mexico started the first 18 games of the year and came off the bench in the following 10 before starting against the Beavers.
If Richardson can’t play, Oregon would be down to eight scholarship players with freshman Addison Patterson joining Mathis and Payton Pritchard as the lone guards. Oregon will have to go with a bigger lineup and Dante, a 6-11 freshman, should see more minutes on the floor after paying five minutes against OSU following a six-week absence due to knee tendinitis.
“We’ve looked at some things, playing more big guys,” Altman said. “We’ve got to keep figuring it out and working with those guys. We have guys who can play different spots so we can change things around. We can play big, we did a year ago and it worked out for us. We need to change the way we approach things and the way we think of ourselves. We have to be a better rebounding team.”
Oregon beat California 77-72 on Jan. 30, but the Bears have won three of their last four games to move into eighth place in the conference. Guard Matt Bradley, a 6-4, 220-pound sophomore who scored 25 against the Ducks, totaled 47 points last week as Cal swept Colorado and Utah to move up to fifth in the conference in scoring at 17.9 points per game.
“He’s talented and he gets buckets, playing with a great deal of confidence,” Altman said. “That big body of his is hard to guard. It will be a difficult matchup without Chris, who did a good job on him last time. We don’t have a lot of size so we are going to have to do a good job and have guys work real hard to try and keep him down because he has had some big games. When they have been successful, he’s had big games.”