Photo Courtesy: UCF Athletics
By John Weis (’94)
Next UCF Opponent: Oregon Ducks (20-14)
2021-2022 Record: 20-15
Coach: Dana Altman (34th Season, 730-382 Overall, 13th Season at Oregon, 320-139)
Last Game: 3/15 vs. UC Irvine (W, 84-58)
Opening Tip: 3/19 7:30 pm, Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, OR (TV: ESPNU)
Opponent at a Glance
According to teamrankings.com, the Knights were ranked 328th out of 363 Division I college men’s basketball teams in terms of luck, meaning only 35 other squads had fewer instances of good fortune. However, as often happens, things seem to be evening out.
For the second straight game, a major opposing player is out with a season-ending injury – and there could be others, too, that miss the UCF game. I guess you could call them the Wounded … but they’re still Mighty Ducks as well, as evidenced by their 84-58 thrashing of the UC Irvine Anteaters (yes, Anteaters) in Round One of the NIT.
The aforementioned Duck certain to miss the game is 6’5” Senior guard Will Richardson, who averaged 12.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists. He’d played in all the team’s games before team doctors shut him down following the Ducks’ elimination in the PAC-12 Conference Tournament. He had been really struggling with a hip injury as of late, averaging just six points per game over his last eight outings.
If Richardson’s inability to play wasn’t fortuitous enough for the Knights (it is St. Patrick’s Day weekend, after all), the other two members of the Ducks’ top-scoring trio will also be game-time decisions – and neither played against the Anteaters. Dealing with a bum ankle is leading scorer N’Faly Dante, a 6’11” Senior center who averages 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds, while shooting a blistering 61% from the floor.
The other member of the triumvirate is Richardson’s backcourt running mate, 6’4” Senior Jermaine Couisnard (12.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.2 apg), who suffered a partially separated shoulder in the PAC-12 Tournament against UCLA. Couisnard couldn’t catch a break this year, as he also sat out the first 15 games of the season while recovering from knee surgery. Oregon Coach Dana Altman says “there’s a chance” Couisnard could play against UCF, bad shoulder and all.
Despite being Unlucky Ducks, Oregon is still very experienced and formidable … and very big, too, especially if Dante is able to play. Three different centers 6’11” or taller see meaningful minutes – and often, there are two in the game at the same time. As a result, the Knights will need to use an all-hands-on-deck approach to be competitive in the rebound department. On the flipside, they could potentially take advantage of the Ducks’ lack of quality backcourt depth, as in addition to Richardson and Couisnard, backup guard Brennan Rigsby (who averaged 17 minutes per game) was declared out for the season on February 26 with a finger injury. It will be important for UCF bigs Durr and Hendricks – and even Thioune – to stay out of foul trouble, be active on the boards, and defend well in the paint.
Other major Duck contributors include a pair of Montreal natives, 6’2” Junior Keeshawn Barthelemy (9.1 ppg, 1,7 rpg, 2.2 apg); and 6’8” Senior Forward Quincy Guerrier (8.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg). Next comes 6’6” Senior guard Rivaldo Soares (7.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.6 apg). The two other centers are next, 7’0” Sophomore Nate Bittle (6.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg); and 7’0” Freshman Kel’el Ware (6.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg). 6’9” Junior Lok Wur (2.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg) drew the starting assignment in place of the injured Dante last game.
Soares led the shorthanded but still victorious Ducks with 21 against UC Irvine, followed by Bittle with 17. In that game, the Ducks avenged a 13-point home defeat at the hands of the Anteaters in just their second game of the season on November 11.
Take note of the game time, 7:30 pm; and where it will air, ESPNU.
If you thought the Knights’ blacktop court of several years ago was odd, wait until you see Oregon’s floor!
Despite the injuries, the Web site I researched has installed the Ducks as six-point favorites.
During the regular season, the Ducks scored 71.1 points and gave up 66.8.
With the win against the Gators, the Knights improved to 15-1 in games in which they held the halftime lead.
Ever since Ernie Kent was fired following a 16-16 record in the 2009-2010 season (and 8-23 the year before), Ducks fans have enjoyed their winning ways under Dana Altman, who was hired away from Creighton. With 732 career victories (320 of them at Oregon), Altman currently stands 21st on the all-time wins list, needing just 23 more to surpass Hank Iba and break into the Top 20. He’s led the Ducks to seven NCAA Tournaments and one Final Four.
There are currently eight former Ducks in the NBA, including Bol Bol of your Orlando Magic. I found 35 Ducks in all who have played in the NBA. Believe it or not, the leading career scorer of all former Oregon hoopsters seeing NBA action is also a current player, none other than Dillon Brooks of the Grizzlies (14.5 ppg). Other Ducks who posted solid NBA careers include Terrell Brandon (13.8 ppg and 6.1 apg over 13 seasons); Greg Ballard (12.4 ppg and 6.1 rpg in 11 seasons); and Jim Barnett (11.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg and 3.1 apg in 11 seasons).
John Weis is a freelance Writing/PR professional. His company, Weis Words (www.weiswords.biz) serves national clients such as advertising agencies, public relations firms and sports organizations, as well as small businesses and private individuals. A native Central Floridian and basketball enthusiast, he spent six seasons as Broadcast Coordinator for the Orlando Magic Radio Network early in his career. He graduated from UCF in 1994 with a degree in Communications and can’t wait for the Knights to move to the Big XII.