Oregon over Arizona

Eugene, Ore. -- The Oregon Ducks (9-8, 3-2) picked up the biggest win of their season and one of the biggest wins in Coach Ernie Kent's tenure at Oregon, with a 73-68 victory over the Arizona Wildcats (10-6, 3-3) on Saturday at McArthur Court. The win gave Oregon the first win over a rated opponent this season and moved Oregon into a tie with three other teams for 2nd place in the Pac-10 race.

(PHOTO) Oregon forward Ivan Johnson carries teammate Aaron Brooks off the court after Brooks scored a basket in the final moments of a college basketball game against Arizona in Eugene, Ore., Saturday, Jan. 14, 2006. Brooks had 17 points to help Oregon beat Arizona, 73-68. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Kent thought the win was a continuation of the improvement the Ducks have realized in the last two weeks starting with the win over Oregon State on New Year's Eve. Dramatically, it was the play of center Ivan Johnson, who was sent home because of disciplinary problems last weekend prior to the Stanford game, that was instrumental in the Ducks win over the Wildcats. Johnson was suspended last week by Kent for failing to live up to personal expectations established between Johnson and the coach, came off the bench against the Wildcats to provide a physical presence and accounted for 10 points, seven rebounds, and two assists.

"Ivan played very well and did all the right thing coming back from his suspension today." Kent said of Johnson.

One of those assists came with 18 seconds left in the game when he recovered a partially blocked shot taken by Bryce Taylor. Johnson, after catching the ball, with the shot clock winding down, immediately flipped the ball back to a breaking Taylor for a lay-in that made the final score of 73-68.

"Ivan (Johnson) came out hard in practice and showed he wanted to be here," said Brooks of Johnson's performance. "He's shown a real change in attitude. He is our stud in the middle."

The game seemed to be broken down into phases as Oregon started off slowly and played nearly eight minutes without scoring a field goal. In stepped Johnson making a play that will not show up in any statistical category. Jumping in front of Arizona's Chris Rogers, Johnson caused Rogers to change his shot and subsequently the ball bounced into Oregon's Aaron Brooks' hands. Brooks headed back up court and found a breaking Brandon Lincoln for a stuff shot.

As the half moved along, Oregon was able to secure the lead, mainly because of some key shots by Lincoln and by taking advantage of second shot opportunities. The first half ended with Oregon leading 33-29 and Lincoln scoring 10 points.

"Two words that cost us the ball game," commented Arizona's Lute Olson. "Second shots."

The Ducks had five players in double figures including Johnson (10), Taylor (11), Lincoln (10), Brooks (17) and Malik Hairston (23).

In the second half, Hairston took over the game with a hot shooting hand. Hitting 4-of-6 from the 3-point arc he led the way as the Ducks shot a blistering 71.4 percent from the field in the second half. The Ducks hit a total of nine 3-pointers and were 27-of-49 in field goal shooting for the game.

"If you look at his face and his demeanor he looks 24 or 25, then you remember he is only 18," said Kent of Hairston. "There will be a time when he takes over an entire game, but he is not quite there yet."

When Hairston cooled off, Brooks took over the offensive show with lightning drives to the basket and controlling the pace of the game for the Ducks.

"Aaron Brooks did a really good job of controlling the tempo," said a quiet Olson after the game. "He always plays well against us."

The Ducks built up an 11-point lead at 60-49 with 8:44 left to go when Arizona started to make a slow but steady comeback. With 4:03 left in the game the contest was tied at 62 but the Ducks scored again and stubbornly held the lead not allowing the Wildcats to get ahead. In the closing minutes of the game, Johnson ignited the crowd with a thunderous stuff after executing a perfect pick and roll with Brooks, who was credited with the assist for Johnson's basket. Arizona kept battling back, but when Taylor's blocked shot fell into Johnson's hands and the big center tossed the ball back to Taylor for the basket, the Ducks had sealed the win for the raucous crowd of 9,087.

"It's a big win," said Hairston of the game. "It's a great feeling. It's the first time since I've been here that we beat a ranked team on national television. We just need to continue to work."

Kent credited the change of success for his team to slowing down the tempo. Kent believes that if his team slows the pace that less fatigue sets in and it allows his stars to stay on the court longer. It was apparent today that with only seven players seeing playing time that a rhythm was established, particularly in Johnson's case. All of the players that met with media after the game talked about Johnson's change in attitude since being sent home from Stanford. Brandon Lincoln thought that perhaps it was some little things such as body language in practice and wanting to be part of the team. Brooks felt similarly and Hairston was glad to see the change.

"Ivan is going to fight for you no matter what," Hairston remarked of Johnson. "He's talented and skilled. He's a beast inside."

The change of pace and subsequent success has had positive results in the last two weeks, but up next is a very tough trip north. The Ducks head first to Pullman and Washington State and then to Seattle to take on the team that could be the class of the Pac-10. Oregon will need every bit of confidence that was built by the win over Arizona, a team that was ranked 24th in the AP Poll because next week they face the No. 13 team in the country, the Huskies of Washington.

Official Boxscore from www.goducks.com

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