Ducks Knock Off Nebraska 68-56

Portland, Ore. – The Oregon Men erased a bitter memory by winning the 2006 Papè Jam, 68-56 over the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Ducks used team speed on defense to frustrate the Cornhuskers' big threat, Aleks Maric. While being happy with the win, Oregon's headman Ernie Kent believes the Ducks still have work to do as they approach conference play later in the month.

(PHOTO) Oregon's Bryce Taylor (4) slams home two of his game high 18 points in the Duck's 68-56 victory over Nebraska on Saturday. (Photo by Chris Wilson)

Last year the Ducks suffered their only loss in the Papè Jam's nine year run by losing the Illinois badly, 89-59. This year's game though rinsed that bad taste out of the Ducks' mouth.

"It was another great game of grinding it out," described Kent of the win. "All and all, I thought it was a great effort by our team. It's great to be 7-0 and heading back to Mac Court."

The game was fairly even throughout the contest given the Ducks shot 33.3 percent in the first half on a 10-for-30 effort, but defensively they allowed the Cornhuskers to shot a better percentage at 45.5 percent but Nebraska put up eight fewer shots going 10-for-22. Significantly, Maric, 6-11 could not get into any kind of flow, mainly due to tremendous defensive positioning by Oregon's Maarty Leunen. Even though Leunen gave up three inches and at least 40 pounds to Maric, it was a matter of quick feet and an aggressive style of defense that made the difference. Leunen also had some help from his teammates.

"I thought they did a nice job coming over and doubling when he (Maric) got the ball," Nebraska's Doc Sadler said of the Ducks' defensive effort.

On paper Maric should have been a one-man wreaking crew and at times showed just how tough he could be in the low post, but he finished up with 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting and two free throws while only grabbing six rebounds. Leunen again showed his ability to play bigger players and was the leading rebounder for the game with nine boards to go along with 15 points on 5-for-8 field goal shooting including 3-for-4 outside the 3-point line.

Kent was very happy with the Ducks defense and said so citing that his team is growing more confident with every win and that the players believe that they can win even if other consider Oregon plays small-ball.

"We're small, but we play big," Kent exclaimed. "Defensively, all you have to do is stand in front of those big guys and have great weak side help."

Perhaps the best play of the game that best demonstrates the latest version of the Ducks was in the closing minutes of the game. The Ducks were holding a 61-56 lead. The Cornhuskers had been steadily whittling away at the Ducks lead by hitting some timely jump shots and had found Maric in the low post for some easy scores. With 1:18 showing on the clock, Leunen was between Maric and the basket. Maric tried to turn for jumper but Leunen and a couple of his teammates swarmed the Nebraska big man. Leunen was credited with a block and the Ducks retrieved the ball. Oregon headed back up court and with 44 seconds in the game Bryce Taylor put the dagger in Cornhuskers' heart by drilling a 3-pointer from the left side to make the score 64-56.

Taylor finished the game as high scorer with 18 points while Aaron Brooks chipped in 15 and Tajuan Porter had 10. Ryan Anderson was Nebraska high scorer with 15 while Paul Velander finished with 10. The Ducks still were on the cool side in shooting and Kent thinks that is an area his team can improve.

"We still have more growth potential," admitted Kent. "We still have not gotten into a rhythm shooting the ball." While many might look at the icy shooting as a bad omen, Oregon has been winning and is now 7-0 for the season. The Papè Jam may have listed the Ducks as the home team, still it was a two-hour bus ride and a night away from Eugene. The Ducks have won three important games in a row. First they beat Rice in Houston, 79-73 in overtime. Then Oregon knocked off nationally ranked Georgetown 57-50 in Washington D.C. The two road games reflected a change because last year the Ducks may not have pulled the two victories off.

"We're understanding how to win basketball games," said Malik Hairston of this year's squad. We're taking care of the ball."

The win over Nebraska marked the last opponent before the Pac-10 season that will feature a potential NBA center and mismatch for the Ducks to overcome. As important as the wins have been, Kent is reluctant to think things will be smooth sailing from now on.

"These are huge," Kent said of the latest wins. "The only thing we've done is stay on pace with UCLA, Washington and even Arizona. We've gotten through the toughest part, but we can't fall asleep at Mac Court."

The difference between this win and last year's disastrous loss to Illinois in the 2005 Papè Jam was that the Ducks showed no fear coming into this game. Last season, there was apprehension among the players about the Illini. The body language and eyes shouted out lack of confidence and for players that believe they are good enough to play not only at the Division I level but also at the next level that was not a good sign. This year the look and body language was different. Hairston summed up things well and that maybe the key to the Ducks success so far this season.

"We're going out there and having fun, playing together and playing Oregon basketball," said Hairston of this year's squad. "The way we are playing, I think we can play with anyone."

The Ducks will next face Bethune Cookman next Monday at McArthur Court with tip off scheduled for 7 p.m.

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