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Mr. Reliable

Oregon head coach Ernie Kent entered the postgame media conference Saturday and, before fielding questions, quickly began highlighting the positives from the Ducks' 81-76 loss to St. Mary's.

It didn't take Kent long to spotlight former South Medford standout E.J. Singler, now a freshman forward at Oregon.

"There were some really good things in the game," Kent says. "E.J. Singler had just a wonderful game, spreading the floor, playing really smart, really hard."

Despite the Ducks (4-4) suffering their fourth loss in five games, Singler's play Saturday provided the coach with some needed optimism.

The 6-foot-6 Singler, in his third consecutive start, scored a career-high 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and led the Ducks with four assists in a team-high 33 minutes.

"It definitely gives me confidence," Singler says of his performance. "I always knew I could play at this level and make plays, but this is kind of my breakout game. I just needed to be more aggressive on the offensive end and get my confidence up. This is a game that will help with my confidence."

Singler was given the option of redshirting — not playing this season in order to save a year of eligibility while gaining strength and experience — but he declined.

It appears that was a wise decision.

After injuries ravaged the Ducks' frontcourt, Singler broke into the starting lineup in an 89-66 win against Montana State on Nov. 28.

He responded with eight points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes.

On Saturday, Singler was at his best.

He made all three of his shots in the first half, starting with a step-back jumper on the baseline. He later added two nice baseline drives against St. Mary's 6-foot-11 senior center Ben Allen.

"I just wanted to be more aggressive today," Singler says. "I had a (near) 7-footer on me. I knew I was quicker than he was. I thought I could get him off the dribble. I had some open drives, so I took them."

Singler had two more lay-ins in the second half and made a pair of free throws after a St. Mary's technical foul.

Asked if Saturday's performance could lead to more minutes for Singler, Kent says, "No question about it."

"He's just a real solid, skilled basketball player," Kent says. "That's the thing I really like about him. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes and do a lot of bad things on the floor.

"He's certainly been very, very valuable for us, and he just keeps getting better and better."

Singler says the biggest adjustment is adapting to the size and speed of the opposition. And he's had to absorb some losses — like a 37-point beating against Missouri — that he rarely experienced while a standout at South Medford.

"It's never fun to lose," Singler says. "You've just got to have a team mindset. I think toughness brings you a long way. If you have toughness, you can come out with tight games like this (against St. Mary's). We've just got to learn from the losses and get back to practice. Hopefully we can learn from film and not make the same mistakes."

Such an outlook will benefit Singler and the Ducks, especially given the unsettled nature of the Pac-10 Conference this season.

Oregon has four nonconference games remaining before opening the conference slate on Dec. 31 against fellow former Panther Michael Harthun and Washington State in Pullman, Wash.

"I've just got to prove myself in practice and in the game every day and things will happen for me," Singler says. "Just practicing every day and understanding how to make plays "¦ hopefully they see that, and the players have confidence in me."

He's already well on his way to earning that trust.

"The guy does the same thing every single day," Oregon junior guard LeKendric Longmire told The Oregonian after Singler made his first career start. "He's Mr. Reliable."

E.J. Singler (25), who played at South Medford, has done all the little things to become a starter as a freshman.