Tony Woods looked at Josh Henderson and tried to put a name with a face.
Running up and down the Memorial Gymnasium floor, Oregon’s big man kept glancing at Vanderbilt’s big man wondering where he knew him from. Then it hit Woods – when he was a freshman at Wake Forest he played the role of tour guide to Henderson, then just a high school senior on a college visit.
“We had a short conversation last year,” Henderson said. “We were at the free-throw line. He looked at me, ‘Didn’t I host you?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, you did.’ Then somebody shot the ball and we had to box out and hit each other.”
Woods again hosts Henderson, who leads the Commodores into Eugene, Ore., for Friday’s matchup against the Ducks (10 p.m., Pac 12 Network).
Their next encounter will provide Henderson and the Commodores (1-0) their first big challenge in the low post. Woods, a 6-foot-11, 243-pound senior, blocked a school-record 51 shots last year and was named an honorable mention Pac-12 All-Defensive Team selection.
“I think it is going to be a challenge we consistently face all year,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “Anybody that has a 6-foot-11-inch, 250-pound that has some skill and athleticism like Woods does can present a challenge. We’re going to try to focus on what we can do to challenge him and what we can make difficult for him.”
Power forward Shelby Moats (6-8, 225 pounds) is expected to start at center again and surrender size to Woods.
Henderson is slowly working his way back onto the court. The 6-11, 220-pound sophomore, who had two surgeries on his left foot in the span of four months last winter, suffered a setback in the offseason and didn’t begin practicing until three weeks ago.
He played 16 minutes in an exhibition game and logged 13 minutes in last Saturday’s season opener. He appeared to be moving fine as he scored three points and grabbed two rebounds against Nicholls State.
“The foot feels good,” Henderson said. “I’m working more through my body getting back in shape. It has kind of been a while. There is still soreness, like lower back and stuff like that. I’m just getting it iced up and stretching a lot. I’m just getting back in shape. It feels good to finally be on the court.”
He came off the bench against Oregon last year in his college debut to help fill the void of then-senior Festus Ezeli, who missed the first eight games due to a knee injury. Woods scored a team-high 12 points but Henderson and Lance Goulbourne forced him into foul trouble. Woods picked up four fouls and played just 21 minutes as Vanderbilt won its season opener 78-64.
Taking away the inside game will go a long way in stopping a balanced Oregon (2-0). Woods is averaging 10.5 points and 5.5 rebounds – one of five players scoring at least nine points. Freshman guard Dominic Artis paces the team with 13 points a game.
“It is going to be hard for us to deal with [Woods] if he catches the ball deep,” Stallings said. “We hope it is hard for him to run out there and find out where Shelby’s at on the 3-point line and cover him in some of those ball screening actions and things we’re going to do. We’ve got challenges on one end. They’re going to have some challenges on the other end – hopefully. It is probably whoever best deals with a lot of those challenges are going to win.”