Loss Ends Pac-10 Tournament Hopes

One of the roughest regular seasons the University of Oregon basketball program has faced under Ernie Kent has come to a close. After much hype and excitement, the Ducks may have seen their first season with the Class of the Century end with a 73-61 loss to the UCLA Bruins.

The Oregon loss, coupled with the California win over Washington State means the Ducks will not make the Pac-10 Tournament next weekend in Los Angeles. Had the Ducks won they would have been in the seventh seed but the loss gives them a ninth place league finish.

This game, just like the season, started off well. A Bryce Taylor jumper in the lane gave the Ducks a 12-11 lead with 11:25 to go in the first half. Although UCLA (11-7, 18-9) took the lead back, Oregon retied the game at 26 on an Aaron Brooks three pointer with 4:30 left. Right after that shot, though, they hit a wall.

Oregon (6-12, 14-13) would only get one more bucket in the first half, a Jordan Kent runner, and UCLA took a 10 point lead into the half. Although the Ducks were doing some good things, they were having a devil of a time stopping Michael Fey. The junior center seemingly scored whenever he touched the ball inside and finished the half with 11 points off the bench.

That 10 point lead only expanded in the opening moments of the second frame. UCLA continued to shoot well and a Fey bucket with 15:13 left gave them their largest lead at that point, 48-33. Things didn't look good for the Ducks, but when Chamberlain Oguchi came on the floor moments later, the outlook changed.

"He did some good things in this game today," Oregon Head Coach Ernie Kent told OSN of Oguchi's game.

Oguchi, who finished with 12 points in just 20 minutes off the bench, hit a pair of free throws with 12:12 to go and followed that with a three pointer on the right side cutting UCLA's lead to 10. After a couple Bruin scores, Oguchi was the recipient of a long pass after a Bryce Taylor steal and threw down on the fast break, again pulling the Ducks to within 10. Shortly after that play, Oguchi made a steal of his own and pounded down another two-handed jam. After that big dunk, the freshman took a charge, giving the Ducks the ball back with a chance to cut the UCLA lead again.

It didn't happen.

UCLA scored five straight points while Oregon's offense went stagnant and the Ducks forced up bad shots. An Oguchi three pointer with 6:12 left cut the lead to 10 again but the Ducks couldn't inch any closer. With UCLA freshman Josh Shipp, who led all scorers with 20 points, cutting through the lane and scoring on possession after possession, the Bruins cruised to the 73-61 win.

Aaron Brooks led the Ducks with 18 points in 38 minutes of play. He also had five assists and only committed two turnovers, giving him four miscues in 83 minutes of play on the road trip.

Bryce Taylor also added 10 points in 35 minutes.

The question for the Ducks now is: Will the National Invitation Tournament come calling? The team asked the same question when they had a similar season in 2000-2001 but the answer was no. Oregon would probably sellout a first round game, which is something the NIT likes, but they also struggled in conference play.

"I think the NIT will look at where we finish in the conference and the fact that we won't be in the conference tournament might be a problem as well," Kent told OSN. "There's certainly an outside chance for (the NIT) but if not, we'll take a little rest time but then go to work immediately getting ready for next year."

Next year should be very interesting for these Ducks. The freshmen, Oguchi, Taylor, Malik Hairston, Maarty Leunen and Ray Schafer will all be a year older. Brooks will finally have a full season under his belt and there will be a scholarship available because of the departure of Ian Crosswhite.

"We have a scholarship to give and we're looking for another Robert Johnson type of player," Kent told OSN.

Johnson, of course, was a JC-transfer who came in for the Elite Eight run in 2001-2002 and gave tremendous rebounding and defensive help to the squad.

Although the chance is slim, it might not quite be time to focus on next year yet. The Ducks will have to wait until next Sunday's NIT selection to see if they'll get one more game or if it will be time to look ahead.


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