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Ducks set sights on Pac-12 play

EUGENE — Oregon just wrapped up its pre-Christmas break.

The Ducks went their separate ways following last Wednesday’s 96-82 win over Central Arkansas before returning for an evening practice on Monday to prepare for the Pac-12 Conference schedule.

“We need to take a couple days off here, do some running at home and then come back on Christmas and get to work,” UO coach Dana Altman said during the break. “We have to improve and do a better job defensively taking care of our responsibilities. For us to compete in the conference, we must do a better job.”

Oregon finished up nonconference play at 10-3 with five straight wins and will have gone eight days without a game until Utah arrives Friday to open Pac-12 Conference play.

“We have four days off here and four days of practice,” Altman said. “I hope we can put some things together and be ready for Utah.”

Altman headed home to Nebraska to visit family during the short break.

Oregon had a few all-around performances against Central Arkansas, including Payton Pritchard with 24 points, eight assists and six rebounds. That marks the sixth time in 13 games the sophomore scored double figures in points with at least four rebounds and four assists.

Troy Brown had 14 points, four rebounds and four assists against the Bears while fellow freshman Victor Bailey had eight points, five rebounds and five assists.

“I thought he gave us some energy,” Altman said of Bailey. “That was good.”

Senior transfer MiKyle McIntosh, a 6-foot-7 forward, was 3-for-4 on 3-pointers while scoring a season-high 17 points against UCA. He missed all five 3-pointers in the previous three games as his percentage behind the arc fell to 23.8.

“That really helped us because he had not been shooting the ball well,” Altman said. “He took four good ones and hit three of them. I think he should be right around 35 to 40 percent from three.”

Pritchard is the only returning starter for a team whose top seven scorers include three freshmen and three transfers. The Ducks began the season with four wins, then lost three of four before winning five in a row.

“We have a lot of younger guys who got comfortable playing in the system,” sophomore guard Keith Smith said. “We had a lot of adversity to fight through and we did a good job of that coming off those losses. We learned from those and from the wins.”

Oregon did not face any ranked teams in nonconference play so its best win was 68-61 at Fresno State in the only true road game so far. The Ducks are home for their next two games against Utah and Colorado and then visit Oregon State before making their second trip out of the state to face Arizona State on Jan. 11 and Arizona two days later.

“That was a good win at Fresno so we know what we have to do on the road and how hard we have to play against a tough crowd,” Smith said. “We still have a long way to go, though.”

Oregon is third in the conference in defense by allowing 70.9 points per game, but has allowed at least 82 in two of the past three games.

“Defensively, we need to get better, we have to get stops if we want to win,” redshirt freshman M.J. Cage said. “Especially against top teams in the Pac-12, we will not win by trading baskets.”

The Ducks are second in the conference with 85.3 points per game with seven players scoring at least eight points per game.

Oregon's Payton Pritchard, right, looks to drive past Fresno State's Jahmel Taylor in a game earlier this month. [GARY KAZANJIAN/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]