The Wichita State victory in hand, the next few weeks loomed like a working vacation. The five upcoming games would be played at home, and four of the opponents – Oregon, Colorado, Ball State and Texas Tech – did not figure to offer much of a challenge. Only Kansas State, on Dec. 20, had the appearance of a possible threat before the team flew to Florida after Christmas for the Palm Beach Classic.
With victories a safe assumption, the focus was on improvement rather than specific preparations for an opponent. Coaches generally put together their December schedules with just that in mind, lining up a string of relatively easy games, with a couple of tough ones thrown in for good measure, as a prelude to conference play. It’s college basketball’s version of spring training. The benefits are many: The starters gain confidence, the reserves gain playing time, and the team gains wins that help build the case for an NCAA tournament berth.
Oregon turned out to be a perfect example. The Ducks had one outstanding player, guard Anthony Taylor, but he was injured and missed the game. Without him, Oregon was not only a duck out of water, it was halfway in the oven as well.
The final was 88-62, and it was every bit that easy. Kip Jones was outstanding for the second straight game, scoring 17 points, hitting eight of nine shots, and grabbing eight rebounds, both team highs – all in just 26 minutes. Over the past two games, he had now hit 17 of 19 shots.
The game also marked the debut of the three walk-ons, Ewer, Fernung and Rea, who played one minute apiece. For Fernung, it was particularly memorable. He got off a three-point attempt that missed the basket by nearly a foot.
“Hey, Kory!” Stephens shouted in the locker room afterward. “You saw two rims up there, didn’t you?”