Oregon Will Be A Tough Matchup For UH Bigs

Houston’s first true road game takes them to Eugene, Oregon, to face the Ducks. The third-ranked Cougars leave Saturday afternoon and will play Sunday night at 8:30 CST. Full Oregon Coverage

Oregon is down to eight scholarship players and three walk-ons due to injuries. Their shortages are mostly in the backcourt; centers N’Faly Dante (6’11”), Nate Bittle (7’0″), and Kel’el Ware (7’0″) present a size challenge for UH similar to the way Arizona did in last year’s Sweet 16.

Kelvin Sampson thinks Oregon coach Dana Altman is most excited about Ware, a freshman out of Arkansas.

“You can tell he’s getting better,” Sampson said about the five-star Ware, who was ranked #7 nationally by Rivals last year. Ware was the Ducks’ leading scorer and rebounder against Montana State on Tuesday, despite coming off the bench.

Altman has tinkered with his lineup that lacks ballhandlers, starting both Bittle and Dante Tuesday. UH expects to see two of the three centers on the court for much of the game. On the flip side, Houston’s athleticism and energy will be a challenge for the Ducks.

“Their length, their quickness. Getting hands on balls,” Altman said. “I was watching the film the day, and the number of deflections and hands on balls they got, it’s just very impressive.”

Altman has questioned Ware’s effort, saying the five-star did not always play hard.

This will be the fourth meeting for the teams in the last four years. UH beat Oregon in the first game played in the Fertitta Center, then dropped the game in Eugene a year later. In 2021, the Cougars blew out Oregon in the Maui Classic.

After Friday’s practice, several UH players said rebounding and tips would be crucial. Kelvin Sampson has repeatedly preached tipping the ball to a teammate and says his staff tracks how many tips players have.

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Due to a Pac-12 volleyball match with USC on Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena, UH will shoot around at Oregon’s basketball practice facility on Sunday (located in the arena). The awful “Tall Firs” court is available Saturday evening. Kelvin Sampson will bring his team to the hotel, watch some film, then go shoot-around Saturday night.

worst court ever

Four players and an assistant coach tell me that rebounding success against Oregon’s bigs will be vital. UH players and coaches believe they’ve had success against 7-footers recently and think the added height is not necessarily an advantage. The athleticism of Dante and Ware worries them, though. Dante did not play in the game in Vegas last year (and Ware is a freshman).

UH traditionally focuses the defensive game plan on shutting down the opponent’s best player but don’t be surprised if UH goes hard after two: guard Will Richardson (#0) and center N’Faly Dante (#1). The Cougar coaching staff knows the UO offense flows through Dante, and J’Wan Roberts will have the assignment of slowing him down. Jarace said the staff has focused on being proactive defensively.

Players detailed their film sessions this week, which are typically about individual attributes and skills rather than plays or sequences. For example, Richardson plays off his right shoulder but will deliver passes with his left. When at the rim, Dante is much more effective from the right side.

UH wants to stop Richardson from creating through the pick and roll. As a screener, Dante uses his length to set wide picks and can quickly cut to the basket. He can also pop to the wing and find a soft spot in a collapsing defense to shoot a three.

J’Wan Roberts says he has to trust his feet and be physical. Roberts, Walker, and Reggie Chaney are prepared to guard against the bounce pass and the three-point line. Chaney could see an expanded role on Sunday.
The Cougars have focused on defensive communication in the post this week. “Talking goes a long way,” Jarace Walker said, “especially in a gym like that.”
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