After exchanging some 'really? that bad' type comments, I finally heard the score from the background announcer at 27-11. About an hour passed and I landed in Las Vegas. With just about twelve and a half minutes left in the contest, the score was nearly tied at 58-56. I did predict a Cal win, but I obviously felt the early score was a very bad sign. I even exchanged barbs with a huge OU fan as we watched the big screen in the sports bar at McCarron Airport as the game went into OT, and really let out a sigh of relief when Freddy Jones missed an acrobatic lay-up with time running out in the 1st OT. Amit Tamir was amazing the entire game, and keyed a big 2nd OT (as did Legans) as the Bears came away with an amazing 107-103 double OT win. I thoroughly enjoyed my flight back to Sacramento with the OU fan just a few rows back. Great memory. All in all though if you ask any Oregon fan if they'd lose two overtime games during their Bay Area trip in exchange for their 1st Pac-10 Crown ever, I am sure the reply would be an astounding 'Yes!' How about a run to the Elite 8? 'Double Yes'. And that's exactly what happened. The 2001-02 Oregon Ducks Basketball season might be the most memorable run ever for recent OU fans.
I believe the Ducks were the biggest surprise team in the country in 2001-02, and the only comparable run a year ago was that of the Kent State Golden Flashes. The surge of confidence and leadership developed by both Luke Jackson & Luke Ridnour from their Frosh to Sophomore seasons was astonishing. They went from a team who played very poor at the end of the 2000-01 Season, to an Elite 8 team in just one year. This year, the Ducks are off to a 10-2 (1-1 in the Pac-10) start, with a couple of important wins over Minnesota and Kansas. Oregon did lose to Cincinnati in shocking fashion in mid-December, and lost narrowly this past Thursday when they dropped their Pac-10 opener to highly-ranked Arizona. A solid start overall, though the Ducks might not be playing their best basketball at the moment.
Here is a quick look at the 2002-03 Oregon team;
Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning starters in Bold) 2002-03 Statistics
PG- Luke Ridnour 6'2 175 Jr (19.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 6.8 apg, 2.2 spg, 35% 3-Ptr's)
SG- James Davis 5'10 175 Jr (10.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.2 apg, 42% 3-Ptr's)
SF- Luke Jackson 6'7 215 Jr - (17.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 4.2 apg, 2.4 spg, 45% 3-Ptr's)
PF- Robert Johnson 6'8 250 Sr (10.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.3 apg)
C- Brian Helquist 6'9 260 Sr (5.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
Andre Joseph 6'3 185 Jr - (8.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.2 apg)
Brandon Lincoln 6'4 200 Fr - (4.4 ppg, 0.4 rpg, 0.7 apg)
Matt Short 7'0 235 Fr - (2.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
Ian Crosswhite 6'11 250 Fr - (10.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.0 apg)
Jay Anderson 6'9 220 Jr - (3.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
The junior class of this team is easily the most talented of any squad in the Pac-10. It starts with All-American point man Luke Ridnour from Blaine, WA., an electrifying tempo guard who might be the best at his position in the nation. Ridnour can stop and hit the long jumper, dish, drive, or score creatively too. He's not a match-up problem due to size, as he's rather lean. But Ridnour is one of the smartest PG's that's ever played in the Pac-10, and there are a number of great ones in that line. Ridnour has the ability to control games if you let him. James Davis also roams the arc with Ridnour, and the diminutive shooting guard likes to combine his speed to free himself up on screens for open looks. Davis and Ridnour interchange occasionally too, though Ridnour rarely leaves the court (34 mins per game). Andre Joseph spells Davis off the bench, and the scoring JC transfer from the state of Texas has contributed nearly 9 ppg in his 1st year in Eugene. Joseph is still learning Pac-10 basketball though, as is newcomer Brandon Lincoln. The one weakness all four backcourt players have for Oregon is that they are not defensive stoppers. They do a lot of good things defensively, but they do not like to foul and usually stay away from that part of the game to keep the tempo up (Joseph is still learning to do that as his foul ratio is very high). Most people don't realize how Oregon originally sets the sprinter's pace that they like, but it usually starts by what they don't do…and that's foul the other team. Credit Greg Graham (now at Boise State) for teaching the Ducks that. Oregon's entire mindset early on in both halves is to get teams to do what they want, and that's dictate a high-speed tempo.
In the frontcourt, All-American Luke Jackson is by far my favorite player to watch in College Basketball. I do not know if Luke watches tapes of Larry Bird before he steps on the court, but Jackson is 'Bird-like at times, and is about as nasty an outside shooter as there is in the entire conference. Jackson is an absolute workhorse who plays hard every second he's out there, and I believe he is the most competitive player in recent Pac-10 memory. Jackson just seems like he's 5 times smarter than everyone else on the hardwood, and that's exactly how Larry `Legend made you feel too. He was my pick for Pac-10 Player of the Year last year, and my pick this year. Jason Gardner is going to give him a real run for his money though. Starting alongside Jackson are two senior veterans: Robert Johnson (from nearby San Francisco), and Brian Helquist (an LSU-transfer). Johnson has been extremely steady for Coach Kent, adding rebounds and defense skills with an occasional basket. Helquist is basically a footballer out there, as he's very beefy and wide. Ditto on Jay Anderson, a Minnesota-transfer, though he's a bit more athletic than Helquist. Ian Crosswhite is by far the most impressive young big man that I've seen play for Oregon in years, and the Aussie-native played some big time basketball earlier this year in the wins over Minnesota and Kansas. He is primarily a spot up shooter, but he can make some post moves as well. However, Crosswhite seems to be either injured or demoted right now…as he played just 16 minutes against Arizona on a 2 for 12 shooting night, and then played just 2 minutes against ASU and did not score this past Saturday. I don't know if Crosswhite's absence is health-related or due to the fact that Arizona out rebounded Oregon by 22 the other night, but I honestly can't make sense of it.
California 2002-03 Team
Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starters in Bold) 2002-03 Statistics
PG- Richard Midgley, 6'1 200 Fr. (9.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.7 apg, 48% 3-ptrs)
SG- Brian Wethers, 6'5 215 Sr. (14.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, 40% 3-Ptr's)
SF- Joe Shipp, 6'5 220 Sr. (19.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 42% 3-ptrs)
F- Amit Tamir, 6'11 260 So. (17.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.3 apg, 46% 3-ptrs)
C- Gabriel Hughes, 6'11 230 Jr. (2.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
A.J. Diggs, 5'9 165 Jr. (5.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.4 apg, 2.8 spg)
Richard Midgley, 6'1 200 Fr. (9.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.7 apg, 48% 3-ptrs)
Erik Bond, 6'7 205 Fr. (2.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 0.9 apg)
Conor Famulener, 6'6 230 Jr. (3.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.1 apg)
David Paris, 6'9 260 Fr. (1.1 ppg, 1.4 rpg)
Rodrique Benson, 6'10 195 Fr. (Limited Minutes)
Martin Smith (Limited Minutes)
Tashaan Forehan-Kelly, 6'3 170 So. (Limited Minutes)
Jordi Vilardell, 6'10 190 Fr. (Limited Minutes)
Donte Smith, 6'2 190 Sr. (Injured - Out till January)
Last years game at Haas Pavilion against Oregon was certainly a major win for the Bears. This year's game though might be even more crucial, and that's due to a bit of misfortune, as well as scheduling toughness. Its safe to say that Oregon & Arizona are the two elite teams in the Pac-10 this year, and both carry top 10 National Rankings. The Bears will likely only host those two top 25 teams all year long…so handing one of them a loss would be a big boost to Cal's postseason chances. It's not the Bears fault that the rest of the Pac-10 doesn't carry national attention. Right now, I believe Oregon just might be ripe for the taking.
Cal enters the game at 8-2, and coming off a fantastic game with a 13-point win over archrival Stanford this past Saturday. The Bears might be playing their best basketball of the year right now, finding their energy and chemistry after a tough couple of starts against Kansas and USF. It doesn't hurt that they are on an extended homecourt streak either. The emergence of two freshmen, Richard Midgley and David Paris (both from Modesto Christian HS) has led to the Bears finding a common identity on both offense and defense for their normal 10-man rotation. Since Cal is a high quality home team, dropping just one game all of last year at Haas Pavilion and 37-4 over a three year span, this is a winnable game for the Bears. I personally believe the Bears are peaking right now, and in my opinion…they picked a great time for it. The start of the Pac-10 Season is absolutely critical for a team like Cal, due to the fact that teams who do not play tough RPI-rated schedules need marquee conference wins.
So on that note: Welcome to Haas Pavilion, Oregon.
Though just a freshman, Amit Tamir feasted on the Ducks last year. He knocked down a career high 39 points in an unconscious effort against the Ducks in the 107-103 OT Cal win, and also punched in another team high 19 points in Eugene in a narrow 76-72 loss. Tamir is the kind of player who just picks some teams to play big against. Perhaps it's the way he develops his confidence, or the way Oregon defends him…but no matter the case, Tamir has flat out binged on the Ducks. Amit is a very pivotal player to the Bears, and when he usually plays his best games its clear the Bears win. That can't be said about every player on the Cal team, but its very true about Amit. Gabe Hughes will have an important job to do in the lane as well, and how he plays on defense is really all that matters. Hughes has to stay on the ground and defend the interior pass by driving players. Oregon runs a quick-curl offense in the lane (we'll see Jackson as the curl man 90% of the time), and if a center double teams or tries to come over for a block, he'll get burned again and again on simple lay-up's by the weakside post player. Jay Anderson, Robert Johnson, and Brian Helquist will score 70% of their overall points on that basic play, and that is exactly why Cal has to stay grounded. I don't however believe Gabe will contain himself, so that's why I see David Paris playing a ton on Thursday night. Paris does not go for the sensational block.
This game has a chance to be physical if its played at Cal's pace, so if we see some charges, defense to offense transition, tough on the ball defense, etc., the Bears will do well. Richard Midgley, Joe Shipp, and Brian Wethers all need to rebound…as that is an Oregon weakness. There is no point in trying to run with the Ducks either, so getting in the paint after shots to rebound is exactly what the Bears will focus on. One of the main advantages that Oregon will have is the foot speed of Ridnour against Midgley. That'll be something to watch, but if Richard plays smart defensively…he can match up. Midgley will not back off him, and when Ben wants to get defensive, Diggs will be ready. A big key for Cal is to keep their composure in the 2nd half, and make sure the get off to a quality start.
Jackson vs. Shipp will be the marquee match-up of the night. Joe has his hands full for sure, though both players play at the same foot speed, and like the same amount of contact. The key for Shipp is to not give up, even when Jackson makes the tough ones. Both Shipp & Jackson are inside-out threats, but can score on curls near the basket too. Amit Tamir might be guarded on the other end by Jackson though, as he was from time to time last year. Again, we'll see Ridnour against Midgley, and Wethers on James Davis. I have a feeling that we might see more of Andre Joseph since Wethers elevates so well.
If the Bears keep the score in the 80's, they should win. If it hits the 90's, their chances go way down. I have no doubt that the Bears will play with energy, emotion, and excitement…and I believe they will win this game. My take is that Oregon will play harder on the offensive end then they will on the defensive end, and that will play right into the Bears hands. We could see a number of runs by both teams, but I have to believe that the Bears will play better defense. There is certainly a ton of incentive for Cal, and I think the Bears have to be confident they can beat the Ducks having split with them last year. I have had this two-game stretch (Stanford at Haas, followed by Oregon at Haas) marked as the two biggest games of the year since I saw the schedule, and I believe the Bears will step it up again. As I said in my Stanford preview, Cal has been waiting all year for the Pac-10 schedule to start. Any Pac-10 team looking to make the tournament has to win their home games.
I'll go ahead an predict that the player of the game will again be Brian Wethers, though I know I should take Amit Tamir. Richard Midgley should play extremely well and hold his own against Luke Ridnour. I believe Cal is peaking, and I'll draw the final score at 84-78 Cal. I am 9-1 on the year in Predictions.
Please visit our Writer's Feedback Forum, and post your comments and questions about this article there.
= GreyBear, Webmaster