Oregon makes it look easy

Los Angeles, Calif. – You knew things were going to go well for the Oregon Ducks when a six foot guard could block a 6-10 postman's shot and that's what happened as Aaron Brooks played superbly on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. The Ducks made it their fifth straight quarterfinal win in the Pac-10 Tourney and improved their overall record to 24-7 for the year.

(PHOTO) Oregon's Tajuan Porter (12) hits one of his five three pointers over Mustafa Shakur (15) while Coach Ernie Kent watches on. (Photo by Chris Wilson)

"I thought it was best defensive performance in 10 years against Arizona," said a stoic Ernie Kent after the game. "They have been somebody that caused me a lot of problems early in my career at Oregon and this team (the current Ducks) have really bought into defending them. A big part of that was keeping them out of transitions and off the offensive boards."

The Ducks came out a step faster, and shot well, but it was their defensive intensity that stood out. Aaron Brooks was on fire in the first half hitting all of his 16 total points for the game but more remarkably were two blocked shots on bigger men. The first occurred when Brooks came out of nowhere to erase a cripple by Arizona's Ivan Radenovic. The amazing thing about the feat is that Brooks stands 6-0 and Rednovic is 6-10. If that didn't set the tempo for the Ducks' defensive effort then a second block by Brooks on a wide-open Jawann McCellan did. For the record, McCellan stands 6-foot-4.

The Ducks played an impressive man-to-man defense, complete with quick hands and feet that accounted for six steals. More importantly though was the inside game where Oregon's Maarty Leunen and Malik Hairston more than held their own by blocking out the bigger Arizona players. Even though the Wildcats out rebounded the Ducks by a 38-35 margin, Arizona was never able to utilize its size advantage. Leunen's performance (nine points and eight rebounds) produced a heap of praise by Arizona's Lute Olson after the game. When the contest concluded, Olson approached Leunen and the two talked for some time. During the post-game media conference, Olson indicated that he congratulated Leunen on his performance today and for the entire year. Not hesitant to avoid controversy, Olson also lambasted the Pac-10 for not naming a tenth player to the All-Pac-10 list, of which he considered Leunen to be one of a number of players that could have been easily named. Calling the situation an "embarrassment" to the conference that the Pac-10 only named nine players to All-Pac-10 list. On March 5th, the conference released the All-Pac-10 list that stopped with nine names and that has set Olson off. Olson indicated he doesn't fear any reprisals from the conference for his outburst as he believes the conference missed the boat by not naming a tenth player, particularly for a conference that is generally regarded as the tops in the country.

"If they (the Pac-10) name the tenth player, I'll be happy to sit out the first (conference) game next year," Olson said. "I'm serious."

The Ducks finished the game shooting 46.4 percent on 25-of-56 shooting including an impressive 11-of-16 shooting outside the 3-point line. When Brooks came out after halftime he cooled down but in his place stepped Tajuan Porter. Porter finished the day with 21 points (game high) and hit five 3-pointers to break the Pac-10 record for 3-point shooting for a freshman. Porter now has a total of 87 treys. Malik Hairston also contributed nine points and 10 rebounds. Freshman Joevan Catron played strongly in the second half when Hairston was saddled with foul problems and Leunen went to the locker room with a slight ankle sprain. Catron hit three straight field goals inside to keep the Wildcats at bay. Minutes later a collective sigh of relief came out of the Duck faithful when Leunen came back onto the court after his trip to the trainer's table.

Arizona's Jordan Hill led the Wildcats with 15 points to go along with his game high 14 rebounds. Marcus Williams chipped in 13 and Chase Budinger had 10. The Wildcats shot 35 percent from the field in the contest on 21-of-60 shooting and a miserable 3-of-16 outside the 3-point arch. Neither team saw much action on the free throw line as the officials tended to let the game go without whistles stopping play.

"No question on who played the hardest and smartest," said Olson of the game. "It was Oregon."

For Kent the win only adds sugar to a season that has taken the bitter taste of the last two seasons out his mouth. Oregon is playing confidently and as productive in every aspect as they have been all season – peaking at the right time.

"Three out of four weeks we were on the road and we gave them a chance to take some time off, two or three days here and there have really re-energized this team," mentioned Kent as to the energy level of his team. "They were outstanding against Washington State and were tremendous against Washington. Against Oregon State, again we gave them a couple days off and they were re-energized. We gave them a couple days off this week and I just feel like the are peaking at the right time."

While beating Arizona was big, one couldn't really tell so by the reaction of Oregon on the bench at the end of the game. There were no outbursts of celebration or even a hint that they had really accomplished something quite unique. Rather things were taken in stride, with much more to prove. Even after the game the Ducks were all business on the podium. Even with less attention on them walking toward the dressing room, they still were holding the smiles back – even if they had just rolled over a team that in year's past would have been a major stumbling block for them. When asked what was next for him after blocking two shots and having a two-hand stuff shot against Washington last week, Brooks was nonchalant.

"I don't know, maybe a Pac-10 Tourney title," Brooks said in response to the question of what's next. "That's our goal (to win the tourney) but whatever happens, happens."

This win should be something extra special for Kent and his team particularly in view of how last season was a struggle and even this year with rumors floating around that someone new will take over the reigns of the Men's basketball program. Make no mistake, Arizona is a quality team and could be heard from again in March Madness, but for now and in Los Angeles after beating Arizona for the second time this year, there is no mistake that the Oregon Ducks have made big strides in respectability around the country.

Leunen described his ankle as a slight sprain. He was able to come back onto the floor after going to locker room.
With his 16 points, Brooks broke the Ducks' top-10 all-time scoring list.

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