Will Richardson has just led Oregon basketball to back-to-back top-five road wins and he’s starting to look like the Pac-12 Player of the Year.
When Eugene Omoruyi, Chris Duarte, and LG Figueroa all opted to go the professional route this past offseason, Oregon basketball fans quickly tabbed Will Richardson as the “next man up” in the leadership category.
The team went from a close-knit veteran group to a hodgepodge of transfers and incoming freshmen and it would be up to Richardson — and Eric Williams — to keep everyone on the same page. They would help the roster gel quickly.
Or so we thought.
As the season started, Richardson was red-hot, averaging 19 points, three rebounds, and two assists while shooting over 50 percent from the floor over his first two games. He looked like a legitimate Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate which Ducks fans expected him to be.
And then he got ice-cold. He went on to score just 18 total points over the next four games as Oregon went from 2-0 to 3-3 rather quickly. He scored eight in a 32-point loss to BYU, zero in a win over Chaminade, eight in a double-digit loss to Saint Mary’s, and just two in a blowout loss to Houston. He was struggling and a lot was due to his confidence and the pressure of the team weighing on him.
He knew he was supposed to be “the guy” but he had never had to until this season. He was thriving as a third option but crumbling as the player expected to bring everyone together.
Richardson bounced back against Montana and UC Riverside, but he was then held under 42 percent shooting from the floor in three of the next four games as the Ducks went 1-3 in that stretch. But something clicked against Baylor. He looked more confident.
Although Richardson made just 5-of-12 field goals against the No. 1 team in the country, he didn’t shy away from the spotlight. He also added six assists and five rebounds. That game was his turning point.
Since that loss, Richardson is averaging 19.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.4 steals while shooting 55 percent from the floor and 52 percent from 3-point range. He’s been named Pac-12 Player of the Week in that stretch and he’s on the verge of his second such award after averaging 22 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists while shooting 56 percent from the floor and 50 percent (6-for-12) from deep in two road upset wins over No. 3 UCLA and No. 5 USC this week.
If Richardson continues to play like this, he’s going to not only find his way onto the All-Pac-12 first team but also put himself in the running for player of the year.
We’re finally seeing the player we all expected at the start of the season.