For former reserve, now starting point guard Johnathan Loyd, 2010-11 was a difficult freshman year. Coming from Bishop Gorman High School in Nevada, Loyd was coming off of consecutive Nevada 4A state championships prior to Oregon.
Used to being a winner, Loyd had to deal with the adversity of being on a team that wouldn't be competing for championships, at least not the ones he had envisioned. Loyd described that first year as "not fun at all", his second year, when Oregon finished second in the Pac-12 was "better", but still not up to his expectations.
"We've put in a lot of hard work for a long time. It's good to get some recognition about it," Loyd said of Monday's AP 10th ranking.
As teammate Arsalan Kazemi said two weeks ago, it's harder to stay in the rankings than it is to get there. The key to that might just be not acknowledge it at all.
"That's what we're trying to stay away from, is not worrying about the outside, the media and all the writings they're doing on us, we're just trying to play our game…," Loyd said.
The next step for the Ducks, who hold a two game lead over the rest of the league, is the vaunted Bay Area road trip. Even with the California Bears and Stanford Cardinal struggling in the early portion of conference play, both teams are tied for sixth with a 3-4-conference record, Oregon knows the trip might be the most difficult left on their schedule.
"It's going to be a tough week," head coach Dana Altman said.
Under Altman, the Ducks have fared better versus the Cardinal than his predecessor, beating the Cardinal 3 out of 4 times, and both times at Maples Pavilion. But Altman is winless versus the Mike Montgomery-coached Bears.
"They both have tough places to play and the last couple of years I've been here, Cal, for some reason we haven't been able to get them," Loyd said.
The Ducks face the Cardinal Wednesday, and despite the losing league record, Altman is aware of what the defending NIT Champions are capable of. That's because the nucleus of that team will be on the court Wednesday, as the Cardinal lost only Josh Owens from last year's squad.
Stanford has exhibited many of the same qualities that led to last year's postseason success, Altman says, the difference being how they've shot the ball. In Sunday's game versus Utah, they nailed nine three pointers and defeated the Utes 87-56.
"To see them play that well last night had to give them some confidence," Altman said. "They played hard [earlier this season], but missed some shots. Last night, they hit shots. It just shows how dangerous of a team they are when they hit shots."
The one advantage Oregon might have versus Stanford is that Cardinal might not have the players to exploit the Ducks' biggest disadvantage: the absence of Dominic Artis. Unlike many Pac-12 teams, the Cardinal's strength lies in its frontcourt, and Stanford has not been a pressing team up to this point in the season, at least not on a regular basis.
Regardless of the Cardinal's defensive arrangement, Oregon will need better point guard play from Loyd and freshman Willie Moore, who combined for nine of the team's season-high 23 turnovers in Saturday's win over Washington.
"I've got to take care of the ball a little bit better. I had a lot of turnovers last game. I think that will come," Loyd said.
It will need to, but more importantly might be his defensive play. Loyd recognized that Washington tried to take advantage of the diminutive Loyd, who stands just 5-foot-8.
"I'm an easy target, I'm 5-foot7, 5-foot-8. It's pretty easy for them to think, ‘Oh, we've got a mismatch right here.' But it's not that easy. That's all I've got to say," he said.
As a reserve, he had been able to play with unabashed energy and aggression. Now as the primary ball handler, his tenacity will need to change, as his value on the court does.
"I can't just be out there going 100 percent on defense and trying to pick up full-court. I've got to tone it back a little bit and pace myself knowing that I'm going to be playing a lot more minutes," he said.
Moore's presence on the court is perhaps just as important as Loyd's. The freshman from Cincinnati had played sparingly in games before Saturday. According to Altman and Loyd, that might be all it will take for Moore's game to improve.
"He's definitely got the talent and the skill. All he needs is a little more experience. That was like his first game really playing big minutes," Loyd said.
Even before Artis' injury, Moore had been splitting minutes at the point guard spot in practice scrimmages, where he fared well, according to Loyd. Now the transition will be to doing the same in the games.
Oregon and Stanford tip-off Wednesday at 8 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU.