For about 21 minutes, it appeared that life without Bol Bol was going to be a disaster for Oregon.
Minus their 7-foot-2 freshman center, the Ducks found themselves down 18 points to Civil War rival Oregon State early in the second half of Saturday’s game. Oregon looked lost and disheveled on offense, disengaged and undisciplined on defense, leading to the poor showing and a few boos from the Matthew Knight Arena crowd.
But just as quickly as it turned bad, the Ducks found something within themselves to change the momentum.
Using a full court press, Oregon outscored the Beavers 42-23 over the next 15 minutes to take a 67-66 lead with 3:48 to play. Although the Ducks would go on to lose the game, the comeback itself signified something that hasn’t been seen all season long; determination and fight.
“I know our guys are fighters, that’s something that I’ve never questioned,” Oregon senior Paul White said. "Even though we lost, this is something we can build on… hopefully we can become a stronger team off that.”
In the comeback, the Ducks relied on their veterans in White and Payton Pritchard. They combined for 22 points, six assists and four rebounds in the second half, giving head coach Dana Altman the veteran leadership so badly needed for a young team.
Also, the emergence of freshman Louis King was a welcome sight.
King, a five-star prospect, played in just his seventh game of the season Saturday night. He missed the beginning of the season recovering from a knee injury suffered last January and is just now regaining his feel of the game.
He finished the game as Oregon’s leading scorer with 17 points and 10 rebounds, playing in a season-high 34 minutes. Although he shot just 6-of-17 overall and 2-of-6 from beyond the arc, he showed plenty of flashes of being able to create his own shot and win on the ground — something the Ducks are in desperate need of with Bol gone.
“I think Lou is going to be a good player for us,” Altman said of King. “I really liked the 10 rebounds he got — I thought he took a big step.
Bol is gone, there’s no changing that. He’s electing to rehab from his stress fracture back at home in preparation for the upcoming NBA draft. It’s a decision that’s been supported by Altman and the players.
“They handled it the way they wanted and I totally agree with everything they did,” Altman said of how Bol and his family dealt with the injury. “They saw a number of specialists to come up with the best way to approach his injury. They handled it like their family should… they wanted to do it out of the limelight without everybody talking about it.
Now with him gone, the Ducks have to take on a new identity.
Gone are the days of giving Bol the ball and letting him go to work, whether that was down on the block or his ability to hit the three-pointer. Gone are the days of lazy perimeter defense, knowing a 7-foot-2 center would be there for support.
“When you lose that kind of size, that kind of skill, that kind of shot-blocking, there’s some things you have to alter,” White said. “You really don’t find a 7-2, 7-3 big man who can do what Bol does.”
This is an Oregon team that must realize the rest of their season, and any hope of an NCAA Tournament berth, comes down to one week in Las Vegas; the Pac-12 Tournament.
The conference is so bad this season that many national experts predict maybe two teams get in, including the conference’s automatic bid for its tournament champion. Even with the down conference, the Ducks chances of being competitive in the conference tournament appeared bleak at best.
Until Saturday night.
The emergence of King, combined with the play of the veterans and the pressure-packed defense, has given Oregon hope — four games in four days for the chance to make a statement in March.