(Here is a game story from Gary Horowitz of the Salem (Ore.) Statesman Journal, one of our Gannett partners. For more coverage of Oregon’s 70-66 win over Arizona, check out the Statesman Journal’s Sports page.)
By Gary Horowitz
EUGENE — Oregon served notice that it is ready for prime time on the college basketball scene.
In search of a barometer game to provide validation, the Ducks defeated No. 4 Arizona, 70-66, on Thursday at Matthew Knight Arena, handing the Wildcats (14-1, 2-1 Pac-12) their first loss of the season.
Senior forward E.J. Singler, who led the Ducks (13-2, 2-0) with 14 points and seven assists, called it the biggest win of his career.
“I think it’s a good landmark,” said Singer, adding, “This is just the start. It’s not our high point.”
Well, it’s certainly the high point of the 2012-13 season thus far and it likely will push the Ducks into the Top 25 next week, if they beat Arizona State on Sunday.
A raucous crowd of 9,544 provided energy throughout and helped Oregon dig out of an 11-0 hole to start the game. Fans stormed the court after the final buzzer, forming a sea of green and yellow near center court.
“The fans were unbelievable tonight,” Singler said. “Student section, the Pit Crew was on fire. They really made a difference in this game.”
It was the second win of the season for Oregon against a ranked opponent — the Ducks defeated then-No. 18 UNLV on the road Nov. 23 — but this one will carry more weight.
It was the kind of victory that figures to resonate come NCAA tournament time for the Ducks, who have not been part of March Madness since 2008.
“I’m at a loss for words right now,” junior guard Johnathan Loyd said. “It feels good, but it’s just a start.”
Oregon’s freshman backcourt of point guard Dominic Artis (10 points, three assists) and Damyean Dotson (nine points, four rebounds) stepped up against the highest-ranked opponent to visit Matt Court since it opened two years ago.
In the early moments, it looked like Oregon might not be ready for the challenge after falling behind 11-0 in the first three minutes.
But the Ducks got back in the game in a hurry and took their first lead at 14-13 on Dotson’s jumper.
Oregon dominated the last nine minutes of the half, closing with a 21-5 run to take a 41-30 lead at the break.
Dotson opened the second half with a 3-pointer that extended the lead to 14 points, but Arizona would not go quietly.
Led by senior point guard Mark Lyons (21 points) and senior forward Solomon Hill (16 points), the Wildcats turned up the heat down the stretch and closed to 69-66 on Nick Johnson’s 3-pointer.
Artis missed a 3-pointer, and Arizona secured the rebound, but Loyd stole the ball from Johnson at midcourt and was fouled. He made the second of two free throws with 9.2 seconds left to close the scoring.
“They’re a team that’s won 14 games, you could see their confidence even when they were down late,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said of Arizona. “They still felt like they could come back.”
And the Wildcats nearly did.
Oregon had several turnovers during Arizona’s late comeback and it’s a game Oregon might not have won on the road. The Ducks led 67-55 with 3:10 left and had to hold on.
But for one night at least, Oregon proved it has the mettle to compete with a top five team. The Ducks have won 17 consecutive games at Matt Court dating to last season.
“That’s a true homecourt advantage for us,” Loyd said.
Balanced scoring has been a key for Oregon this season with five players averaging in double figures, and that was on display again against Arizona.
In addition to Singler and Artis, senior forward Carlos Emory (10) and senior center Tony Woods (10) also reached double figures. Senior forward Arsalan Kazemi added six points and a team-high eight rebounds off the bench.
The Ducks, who came into the game shooting 31.5 percent on 3-pointers, made 7 of 11.
Oregon has an intriguing blend of seniors and freshmen, and it will be interesting to see what Thursday’s win means moving forward.
Singler said there are bigger goals ahead, including a Pac-12 championship.
“This is the start of our conference season,” Altman said. “January 10 is not the high of our season.”
That remains to be seen.