Turnovers. For the Oregon men's basketball team, they've been a common refrain despite the 11-2 start to the season -- the team's best start since 2006-07 when Oregon went 13-0 over a similar stretch. Against Nevada Monday afternoon, the Ducks committed 20 turnovers -- directly leading to 20 Wolfpack points -- and while Oregon came away with the 56-43 victory, head coach Dana Altman still has concerns about his team's ability to take care of the ball heading in to Pac-12 play next week.
Senior forward Carlos Emory tied for the team lead in scoring versus Nevada with 13 points.
"Our turnovers are really a problem for us," said Altman following his team's win. "Defensively, we were pretty sharp, but you turn the ball over 20 times -- and they got 20 of their 43 points off our turnovers -- obviously our ball handling has to improve and our ball movement has got to get so much better."
The turnovers started to take their toll as Nevada mounted a comeback to cut the Ducks' lead to six in the second half. That's when Altman turned to a two point guard lineup of Dominic Artis and Johnathan Loyd to help stop the bleeding.
"I was just trying to cut down turnovers," said Altman. "I said, 'Well, we've got to put our best ball handlers on the floor and try top cut down the turnovers.' E.J. (Singler), I think he's just trying too hard. He's trying to make plays sometimes, but I think he's just trying too hard. For awhile there, I was just tired of the turnovers."
Singler's seven turnovers against the Wolfpack were a team-high; a statistic the senior forward native took full responsibility for after the game.
"We had been really trying to limit our turnovers and most of them, it was on me," said Singler. "I've got to clean it up a lot being senior. I've got to be stronger with the ball and make better plays...I've got to take a lot of blame for that."
While Singler's turnovers were a glaring issue for the Ducks throughout the game, Oregon's lackluster effort could also be contributed to the loss of forward Arsalan Kazemi. Kazemi -- the transfer from Rice -- went down with an apparent head injury late in the first half, which may have hamstrung the Ducks' ability to rebound and defend with maximum effectiveness in the second half.
"Arsalan's a good rebounder and a good defender, but we need the depth," said Altman of the impact of Kazemi's injury.
"We just had some bad turnovers and we had a couple good looks that we just missed."
Kazemi's status for Oregon's game next Sunday in Corvallis versus Oregon State is unclear, though Altman suggested that Kazemi appeared to fine as the senior was up and moving around without noticeable issue in the locker room following the game.
Turnovers not withstanding, the Ducks received encouraging lifts from Artis and senior forward Carlos Emory, who chipped in nine of his team-leading 13 points in the second half in place of the injured Kazemi.
"When he's really focused, he's really good," said Altman of Emory. "He's had a good week of practice and I think that led to a good performance tonight. He hit a big three when [Nevada] cut the lead down to six or seven points there...I just think he had a good week of practice and it led to a good performance today."
With the non-conference schedule now effectively in the rear-view mirror, the Ducks turn their attention to the upcoming Pac-12 schedule which features a daunting slate of games beginning with Oregon State on January 6. Deep down, Altman admitted that he'd prefer to have some of the in-season breaks occur later in the season to help his team ease in to conference play, however Altman believes the challenge of facing difficult opposition early in the conference schedule could reveal plenty about the makeup of his group.
"When you have your break the first week, it kind of gives you a funny rotation, but it's the way it is," said Altman. "We've got a tough start to conference; we've got to go to Oregon State, we've got to come back and play the No. 3 team in the country [in Arizona] and Arizona State is off to a pretty good start, and then we've got to go to UCLA who's playing better and USC."
For Oregon senior center Tony Woods, the onset of Pac-12 play also shifts the overall mindset of the team heading in to a critical juncture of the season.
"I feel like we've been preparing well for conference play," said Woods looking ahead to Sunday's game at Oregon State. "It's definitely a different mentality that a lot of our younger guys will see once league play starts.
"Nobody wants to see Idaho State [on the schedule]."
The Ducks return to action next Sunday as they take on Oregon State. Tip-off from Corvallis is set for 7:00 p.m. Pacific and can be seen live on ROOT Sports (FSN).
Oregon is undefeated in their last 16 games at Matthew Knight Arena.
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