EUGENE — As the regular season ended, Kavell Bigby-Williams was set on his role at Oregon.
The 6-foot-11 center played in almost every game for the Ducks, if not for as many minutes as he and many others expected from the national junior college player of the year. Bigby-Williams was usually on the court between five and 12 minutes per game, focused on defense and rebounding as Oregon won five games in a row to clinch a share of the Pac-12 title with Arizona at 16-2.
“I’m just trying to be as efficient as possible when I’m out there,” Bigby-Williams said after Oregon’s 80-57 quarterfinal victory over Arizona State on Thursday at the Pac-12 Conference tournament in Las Vegas. “Try to give energy and do as much as I can.”
About 40 hours later, Bigby-Williams found out the Ducks would need more from him after the team learned that senior center Chris Boucher was out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered during Friday’s 73-65 conference semifinal victory over California.
On Saturday, Bigby-Williams took Boucher’s spot as the first big man off the bench and played 14 minutes in an 83-80 loss to Arizona in the title game. It was his longest stint in almost seven weeks, and his six rebounds were his most since the start of conference play.
“Coach always told Kavell to be ready, and he was,” Oregon senior guard Dylan Ennis said. “He gave us big minutes and will continue to do that in the NCAA Tournament.”
Coach Dana Altman publicly predicted a few times that Bigby-Williams would have more opportunities to play as the season went on, and that will happen when Oregon (29-5), the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region, opens the tournament against Iona (22-12) at 11 a.m. Friday in Sacramento. The game is on TBS.
“I talked to my teammates, my coaches, and they told me to be patient and you’ll get your chance to show what you can do,” Bigby-Williams said. “Unfortunately, this is the situation that I’ve been put into, but I’m going to keep working hard and try to help the team win.”
Like Boucher, Bigby-Williams was the national player of the year at a junior college in Wyoming, where he averaging 16.8 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 blocked shots per game before signing with the Ducks. While Boucher earned a starting spot in his first season at Oregon, Bigby-Williams spent most of his first season at Division I watching from the bench.
“I wasn’t really able to show what I can do this year, but I’m doing what I can to help the team win,” he said.
The 230-pounder averaged 3.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks per game over an average of 9.7 minutes. Spread out over more minutes, those could turn into valuable numbers for the Ducks, but Bigby-Williams will have to avoid foul trouble. He averaged one foul just about every seven minutes.
“Coach said you have to fight adversity, so when one person goes down, the rest step up,” Bigby-Williams said. “That’s what’s on my mind now, helping the team win. This is my shot to show what I can do and help my team.”
Bigby-Williams has at least three rebounds in six of his past nine games, and he’s averaging a rebound nearly every three minutes over that span. He’s shooting 47.1 percent from the field, but didn’t take more than four shots in a Pac-12 game.
“Injuries are a part of any sport, and we have to move on,” Altman said. “I thought Kavell gave us great minutes (against Arizona).”
Bigby-Williams got a preview of the intensity that comes in postseason play during 23 minutes at the conference tournament, with most of his time coming in front of a sellout crowd of more than 18,000 that leaned heavily toward the seventh-ranked Wildcats. Bigby-Williams had three points and two blocks against Arizona.
“I have to bring the energy Chris brings to the game, and fortunately I was able to do that,” he said. “I look forward to March Madness.”
Bigby-Williams figured to be one of Boucher’s replacements next season, but that opportunity has come early.
“I’d say it has been a little up-and-down season,” Bigby-Williams said. “At the start, I wasn’t really feeling it, but now I’m in my groove. I feel like I’m adjusting to the speed and playing more physical. Hopefully, I will bring that into next season too and that will be my year.”