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Tallest Duck is short on minutes

Dana Altman noted that Oregon played “the three biggest teams in the league” last week during the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.

The Ducks were not able to play their biggest player for many meaningful minutes during those games when Oregon faced Colorado’s 6-foot-10 Josh Scott and 7-footers Jakob Poeltl of Utah and Kaleb Tarczewski of Arizona.

Center Michael Chandler, a highly recruited 6-foot-10 junior from Northwest Florida State, has played only 101 minutes this season because of a knee injury that has bothered him all season as well as an NCAA suspension. Chandler said he thought about how he could match up against those opposing centers last week.

“Most definitely,” Chandler said. “I think about it all the time.”

Chandler had not been made available by Oregon to the media all season, but every player is required to speak to the press at the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, so he spoke publicly for the first time all season after Thursday’s victory over Colorado.

Chandler has battled a knee injury since he arrived at Oregon and sat out the first nine games of the season to heal his knee while serving an NCAA suspension for accepting extra benefits during high school in 2011. Chandler said he has tried to stay upbeat while playing 19 of 26 games he was eligible for an average of 5.3 minutes.

“It’s been kind of tough, but I try to stay positive and keep pushing and do all I can to make it better,” Chandler said.

Chandler played a total of three minutes in two games at the Pac-12 Tournament.

“I’m not thinking about it,” he said when asked how tough it has been to watch mostly from the bench. “Whatever opportunity I can get, I try to make the most of it.”

Altman has mentioned this season that Chandler had a hard time getting in condition to stay on the floor for a long time as he recovered from the knee injury. For most of the season, Chandler could not even get through a full practice.

“It’s getting a lot better,” Chandler said. “I’m trying to keep improving, make sure it gets a lot stronger. I’ve gone through full practices lately, trying to get back in the best shape. That’s really it.”

Chandler has scored 42 points, grabbed 26 rebounds and shot 14-for-28 from the field and 14-for-20 from the line this year.

His potential was seen most in his first game, against Cal State Northridge on Dec. 17 when the Ducks kept going to him on offense and he finished with 13 points in seven minutes. He played 16 minutes in his second game against Delaware State and had five points and four rebounds, but has not played more than nine minutes in a game since that time.

Chandler has spent most of the season cheering on the Ducks as they made a strong second-half surge to reach the NCAA Tournament where eighth-seeded Oregon (25-9) will face ninth-seeded Oklahoma State (18-13) in the second round Friday at 3:50 p.m. in Omaha, Neb.

“That really excites me because I love my teammates,” Chandler said. “I know how hard they work and it’s fun watching them play.”

Chandler is hoping he will be ready to play more next season.

“I think it’s getting close,” Chandler said. “I think next year I should be good to go.”

Omaha ties

The trip to Omaha will be a homecoming for Altman and a few members of his staff.

Altman spent 16 seasons at Creighton before being hired at Oregon in 2010. He is the all-time winningest coach for the Blue Jays with a 327-176 record.

Assistant coach Kevin McKenna played at Creighton from 1977 to 1981 and was the most valuable player for the Blue Jays during his final two seasons. He served two stints as an assistant at Creighton under Altman from 1995 to 2001 and 2006-07 and in between was the head coach at University of Nebraska-Omaha from 2002 to 2005.

Oregon assistant Tony Stubblefield played two seasons at Nebraska-Omaha and began his coaching career as a student-assistant there in 1994-95.

Altman and his staff will see plenty of friends and family this week at CenturyLink Center. Altman’s wife, Reva, is from Stanton, Neb.

“My dad didn’t get to travel as much this year, he was out for a couple series, but he did not see us play as much has he has in previous years,” Altman said. “Reva’s parents will be able to see us play and her brothers and sisters. Personally, I have a lot of family there. I got 60 texts from people wanting tickets.”

Oklahoma State is about a six-hour drive to Omaha, but Altman said he hopes fans make the trip from Eugene as well.

“I hope we get some Ducks fans to make the flight,” Altman said. “At least I will have my family cheering for us and Reva’s family. It will be a great situation, I am so excited for the guys.”

Bonus check

Altman has already earned a couple of postseason bonuses in his contract.

He pocketed $10,000 for beating Utah in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament and $25,000 for reaching the NCAA Tournament.

He would earn an additional $25,000 for any win in Omaha.