|Tajuan Porter takes the charge. (Photo by Chris Wilson)|
While not many folks gave the Ducks a chance on Saturday, any chance appeared to depend on solid defense and the ability to slow down a potent UCLA attack. As it turned out, the Ducks held the Bruins to 66 points, 12 below their average coming into the game, while limiting them to 41.8% from the field, down from their previous average of 50.7%. In the first half, the Ducks stymied the Bruins' offense holding UCLA to a paltry 36.4% from the floor and 1-9 from the 3-point line. Meanwhile, the Duck's were on fire, shooting 70% from the field and building a 10-point lead that would hold up. In a physical game that had all the makings of yet another Duck disappointment, Oregon turned consternation to celebration with it's gritty play down the stretch.
|Maarty Leunen with the dunk while being fouled. (Photo by Chris Wilson)|
While not the outright star of the game, (that honor was clearly reserved for Aaron Brooks – more on him later) Maarty Leunen continued to show the ability to both score on and guard opposing big men. "This was a physical game," said Luenen in a post-game interview, "we just had to step it up and compete with their players." And compete he did, to the tune of 18 points on 5-8 shooting (2-3 from long range) to go with a team high 7 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. Leunen also chipped in two huge free throws in the closing minutes of the game after getting fouled collecting a gritty defensive rebound. It was the kind of effort deserving of the "Maarty" chants that echoed from the Pit Crew.
|The Pit Crew was in fine form. (Photo by Chris Wilson)|
From the moment Phil Knight arrived, tossing peanuts to the Pit Crew, Mac Court was the Mac Court of old. Whether they were taunting Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (photo right) or making the score board tremble, the crowd created the kind of environment that can intimidate first time visitors. Said freshman Russell Westbrook, "this was my first really hostile environment so it was a factor." Junior Aaron Afflalo commented on the Oregon crowd saying, "they kept them in the game early."
|Aaron Brooks makes a tough shot over Arron Afflalo. (Photo by Chris Wilson)|
Aaron Brooks capped off a spectacular week with 25 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals against the Bruins. He made huge shot after huge shot, hitting his only 3-pointer and going 6-6 from the free throw line. Brooks started off the game 5 of 5 from the field and used his senior savvy to hit the game winning shot. Said Brooks, "I was dribbling down the baseline, and I heard (Darren) Collison call for a trap, so I wanted to shoot before they got to me. I wanted to run some more time off the clock, but I was open so I just took it." And hit nothing but net. Said junior Bryce Taylor of Brooks, "Aaron is clutch. We look for him to take over at the end of the game. I've never played with anyone like him. He's incredible." Brooks is providing the Ducks with a "go to" man in cruch time. It's gotta be sweet redemption for a career that at times hasn't lived up to the hype.
|Maarty Leunen gets a hand up as Josh Ship takes the last shot of the game. (Photo by Chris Wilson)|
As the clock ran down, the Bruins tried to penetrate the staunch Duck defense. "I thought we would be able to penetrate and kick out for a three," commented UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland. UCLA point guard Darren Collison added, "I tried to drive and we didn't have anything there." The ball eventually came to Josh Ship, who faked once briefly making Maarty Luenen lunge to his right. But as Ship raised up to shoot the game winning three, Luenen was right back in his face. Said Luenen, "I knew he had to put up a quick shot because the shot clock was running out," and with it the Bruin's luck. Ship's shot clanked off the rim, the buzzer sounded, and the Ducks had what will amount to a "quality win" come Selection Sunday in March. Here's hoping it's the first of many in what could be a magical season.