The women's basketball team accomplished their objective with a weekend split in the Bay Area. With the tiebreakers in their advantage, the Ducks will get the second seed in the Pac-10 tournament this weekend. A key advantage of the seed is that conference champion Stanford is in the upper half of the bracket and could only be a tournament champion opponent if the Ducks advance that far. A NCAA tournament bid is probably not predicated on the Ducks playing deep into the conference tournament, their second place finish in the regular season should qualify them for the Big Dancette…
The Duck win in Berkeley was heart and soul, as many of their victories have been this season. The drubbing Stanford inflicted two nights earlier was a direct response to the lackluster effort of the Cardinal in their McArthur Court appearance. Heart and soul brought the Ducks a victory that night as well, a victory Stanford had every right to expect for the first 30 minutes of the game. As they left the court, I think Stanford knew it, felt it deeply, and set their sights immediately upon the rematch.
Nevertheless, to this point in the school year, this is the group of athletes that is the best performing on campus. The Ducks do have vulnerabilities, but if they play to their strengths and intellect they are generally able to keep the opponent at enough an arm's length to prevent them from being exploited. How deep into the Dancette the Ducks will go will be determined by how quickly they encounter a team with significant quickness, like Stanford. Or… the Huskies, probably the conference tourney opening opponent. Washington is not as quick as Stanford however, so the higher seed ought to prevail. This could be a very good basketball game and may set the tone of the 2005 post season for Bev Smith's group.
ON THE OTHER SIDE…
The men's team wasn't so fortunate, getting a split at home when they needed a sweep of the Bay Area duo. The California game could have slipped away but when it didn't you felt Coach Kent's charges would find a way again the next night. Unfortunately, prior tendencies to lose late leads, to miss free throws and to turn the ball over returned, allowing the Cardinal to escape Mac Court with a win that may put them in the Big Dance.
The split leaves the Ducks needing a sweep in Los Angeles to qualify for the men's conference tournament as well as any chance an NIT invitation. As has been said all season, this group doesn't lack for effort and I'm sure a committed effort will be forthcoming both nights.
For my nickel, the most significant accomplishment of this season is this team shows no evidence of becoming fragmented, a very real possibility given the collective youth and expectations they possess. Their cohesiveness appears to be of substantial cloth.
One other positive is that with the exception of Adam Zahns' early season ankle injury, the team remained remarkably injury free this season. Though the hope is to not star-cross that good fortune by raising the possibility, should there be any injuries in coming seasons the good health of this campaign allowed a broad sharing of game experience and should translate into a deep bench to replace any who may lose time.
Local readers are likely to have seen the feature piece on Oregon coach Ernie Kent in Sunday's Eugene Register~Guard. For those outside the area it would be worth your while to click through their archive and give it a read. Oregon may be unique in that two head coaches of major sports have a son in their program. Football coach Mike Bellotti's son Luke is a walk-on place kicker with the Ducks and son Jordan plays for Coach Kent. Also in the public spotlight are two of Jordan's siblings, older brother Marcus who is prominent in the student section and sister McKenzie who is a rally squad member. The Register~Guard did a nice job of illustrating a unique family situation in a college town.