Fans Falling Off Bandwagon?

Coach Ernie Kent address the Pac-10 media (streamed live on on Tuesday as his team prepares to travel to Southern California to take on the USC Trojans (16-9, 7-7 Pac-10) on Thursday night at the LA Sports Arena with a tip-off scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The Ducks (12-15, 6-9) are hoping to keep the faint hopes of an NCAA appearance alive by creating momentum and winning the remaining three games of the regular season then winning the Pac-10 Tournament.

The Ducks are battling for the No. 6 position a spot that would reduce the number of games that Oregon would have to win to become tourney champions.

In order to end up in sole possession of sixth place, the Duck must win the remaining three games and USC must lose three of its final four games. (edited to reflect correct data)

If Oregon wins all three remaining games and USC were to only win two of its remaining games then the two teams would be tied for sixth with a 9-9 record. USC would win the nod as the Trojans have wins over UCLA, Stanford and Arizona (all with higher standings) while Oregon has only beaten Arizona this season.

One of the questions from the media conference that drew a long response from Kent was about fans "jumping off the bandwagon" as evidenced by a lighter crowd at last Thursday night's Washington game. The Ducks lost in the final minute to the Huskies 75-72 in front of a reported crowd of 8,904 short 183 of the capacity 9,087. Kent did not believe the crowd was any less enthusiastic over the Washington game and that the crowd was as vocal as ever.

"I thought it was a great environment for us," said Kent of the Mac court crowd last Thursday night. "I don't know if it was completely 100 percent full, but it was noisy. It was loud. In terms of jumping off the bandwagon, we've had a year that we've lost a lot of close games but they've all been exciting, obviously right down to the wire."

On Saturday, Oregon shed much of its frustration over the season by handily beating Washington State 67-37 with a reported attendance of 9,087. Kent felt the fan support was very good against the Cougars

"Then on Saturday with the sun out in Eugene and a one o'clock game, I thought it was a great crowd again on Saturday, loud and everything else," noted Kent. "They (the crowd) responded very well on how hard we played on Saturday."

The question of fan and booster support may become more prominent as the season continues but Kent points out that when he came to Oregon to coach his alma mater that he purposely set the standard high. In fact he is quick to remind that he submitted a 10-year plan to Oregon Athletic Director Bill Moos on what was going to happen to the Ducks. Kent proposed in his plan the Ducks would in 10 years from his initial hiring date, win a Pac-10 title, advance to the Sweet-16, Elite-8 and Final-4 of the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks would also man the roster with players that would be drafted into the NBA, recruit a top-15 rated class and build a new basketball arena.

"Coming in the door people thought I was crazy for putting that in writing and handing it to Bill (Moos)," Kent pointed out. "But we've done everything we said we were going to do on that sheet except for the Final-4 and the arena is hopefully on the horizon as they talk about it today."

Kent thinks that while some supporters have become disenchanted with the men's basketball program, it is most likely due to the higher expectations and success the fans have come to enjoy over the last few seasons and that is to be expected.

"So when we've raised the bar, we've done that," Kent added. "I would expect people to jump on and off bandwagons because they are used to having success around here that we've generated and created and that's O.K."

Oregon started the season off slowly after initially winning the first four games of the non-conference schedule. However, starting with a heartbreaking loss to Vanderbilt on a successful last second 3-point shot, the Ducks struggled in December losing five games including losses to the University of Portland and Portland State. Oregon seemed to be playing without confidence hitting a low point with the loss to PSU during the week between Christmas and New Year's. The Ducks seemed to regain their composure during the Pac-10 race although they were unable to beat the conference leaders despite playing very close games. In fact the only the game the Ducks were completely out of was against Washington on the road. The Ducks lost that game 78-59 on January 21st. The Ducks lost five games in the Pac-10 race by three or fewer points this season.

The Ducks have shown improvement during the Pac-10 season particularly on defense and last Saturday's win over Washington State may have been the best effort so far. In fact Kent thinks his team's defense against the Cougars maybe the best he's ever seen from an Oregon team.

"We were really, really good defensively and as I've told people it was the best defense I've seen here at Mac Court since I've been here or even in my playing days," said Kent of the Ducks' play on Saturday. "We were that good defensively."

The Ducks will need a great defensive effort in the next three games if they want any chance of staying in contention for the No. 6 spot in the Conference Tourney seeding. Oregon showed the ability to take advantage of its strong defensive play particularly with players like Chamberlain Oguchi and Malik Hairston shooting the ball as well as they have. Oguchi has averaged 19.6 points per game over the last three games while Hairston is averaging 18.3 points over the same period.

The Thursday night game against USC is scheduled tip-off at 7:30 p.m. No television coverage is scheduled for the USC game but eDuck subscribers can join other fans in Game Chat starting at tip-off time.

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