Hitting Shots Key in Road Trip

Had the Oregon Ducks (10-13, 4-7 Pac-10) not been swept at home in the last four games, perhaps this upcoming road trip to Arizona would have been less important. However, the Ducks dropped four games in a row by a total of seven points and now with the final seven games of the regular season remaining, the Ducks need some wins. Winning on the road is tough enough but in a league so even, with no team yet separating itself from the rest, the Ducks have a tall order.

(PHOTO) Oregon forward Malik Hairston (1) goes to the basket past Arizona gaurd Hassan Adams during the first half of a college basketball game in Eugene, Ore., Saturday, Jan. 14, 2006. Hairston led Oregon in scoring with 23 points as Oregon beat No. 24 Arizona, 73-68. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

"Any road trip, is a tough, tough road trip," said Oregon's head coach Ernie Kent during the weekly Pac-10 media telephone conference streamed live on oregonlive.com. "Regardless of what people's records are they are very tough road trips."

The Ducks travel to Tucson on Thursday night to take on the Arizona Wildcats (13-9, 6-5) for a 5:30 p.m. tip-off in a contest that will be carried by the Oregon Sports Network. The Ducks hope to repeat the game they played on January 14th, when Oregon knocked off the then No. 24 Wildcats 73-68 at McArthur Court. In that game, Kent's charges played arguably their best game of the season, but since then both teams have struggled. Oregon is in the midst of a five-game losing streak and Arizona is on a three-game slide. The Ducks have played well defensively according to Kent and have kept themselves in games, but closing out games have been the problem, specifically free throw and 3-point shooting.

"The biggest thing has just been shooting the ball," Kent said of the past few games. "We've gotten great looks in our losses."

During the losing home stand, Oregon shot 42.6 percent from the field on 95-of-223 including 23-of-84 or 27.3 percent for 3-point shooting and a miserable 52.6 percent free throw shooting on 30-of-57. What might even make these poor figures inflated is the fact that against USC, the Oregon jump shooters actually shot a respectable 12-of-28 beyond the 3-point arc. Even if the Ducks had made eight more free throws or shot 66.0 percent in free throws, theoretically instead of having a four-game losing streak at home, Oregon would have won those four games. Beyond free throw shooting though it has been a case of the Ducks not being able to make critical shots when they most need one particularly when they had open opportunities.

Don't expect Arizona's Lute Olson to be too sympathetic to Oregon's plight. The Wildcats have had their own problems including the suspension of Portland native Chris Rogers. Rogers was dismissed from the team on January 18th for unspecified reasons and while Olson has indicated that there is a chance Rogers could come back to the team, it won't happen this week against Oregon.

"There are no changes on that as of now," Olson commented about Rogers during his weekly media conference. "He's working toward it. I am not going to comment a timetable. I think our guys are working hard. I really feel uncomfortable for the other guys for you to be talking so much about Chris, when Chris isn't a part of the team."

Rogers has been described as the best defender on the Wildcats' roster prior to his dismissal. The 6-4 guard out of Wilson High School in Portland had 12 points, five rebounds and two steals against the Ducks in the last match up.

Olson obviously has read the Oregon box scores and has noticed that the Oregon shooters, particularly Malik Hairston has been streaky over the course of the last few games. Despite that, Olson is not taking anything for granted when it comes to Hairston or the other Ducks when it comes to talent and potential.

"Malik (Hairston) is a very talented player, and I think you can see from some of his games," commented Olson. "I would say, that he is a little on the streaky side. If he gets it going you better not let him catch the ball. (Maarty) Leunen is a very good shooter also; you can see that anytime someone is shooting over 80 percent from the free-throw line, you know that guy is a good shooter. But Hairston is a good athlete, a talented guy. You look at his numbers are pretty good with the exception of free throws."

Oregon can actually salvage its season by winning out the rest of the games and winning the Pac-10 Tourney in which every team is invited this year. No betting odds are currently available for that actually happening but the Ducks did show they have the capability of suddenly becoming a very hot team as their 3-point shooting against USC demonstrates. Whether they have the consistency to do so of course has been the question all year long. Kent is hopeful that this weekend his shooters can find the touch and turn those close games that are lost into close games that are won.

"Their spirits are good and hopefully we'll shoot it well this weekend." Kent remarked of his team. "Makes all the difference in the world if we can make shots."

Subscribers to eDuck.com can follow the game with other Duck fans in game chat starting at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday (Arizona).

Kent indicated that guard Bryce Taylor was banged up during practice yesterday and his status has not yet been determined for the the Thursday night game.

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