Oregon Survives Winning By 2

Spokane -- Some may call it luck but the Oregon Ducks would rather think of it as good defense that allowed them to stave off the Miami (Ohio) Red Hawks 58-56 in the first round of the Mid-West Regional of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Trailing early 9-0, the Ducks switched to a match-up zone defense and ran off 20 unanswered points in a game that saw both teams get hot and cold.

(PHOTO) Aaron Brooks (0) takes the ball hard to the basket late in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Miami (OH). (Photo by Chris Wilson)

"As I sit here and glance at stats, it was almost an identical game played by both teams," said Oregon's Ernie Kent after the hard fought battle. "The number of shots, three-pointers made, assists, turnovers, they (Miami) are a very difficult team to play against."

Even for sure. For the game the Ducks shot 43.2 percent from the field on 19-of-44 including 5-for-16 from outside the 3-point line while the Red Hawks hit at 47.7 percent pace on 21-of-44. The team from Ohio was 7-for-20 in three pointers. Both teams had 24 rebounds and 10 assists. Oregon had three steals while Miami had one. The Ducks were charged with 12 personal fouls while the Red Hawks were whistled 15 times. Miami had seven turnovers to Oregon's 5.

The game got off to a slow start for the Pac-10 Tournament Champions as Miami squirted out to 9-0 lead early in the game. Kent called time out, inserted Joevan Catron into the line up and switched to a match up zone defense. The results paid off as Oregon ripped off 20-consecutive points to hold Miami scoreless for nearly 10 minutes. Miami then had 13-5 run of their own and when the horn sounded for halftime the score was 25-22 in favor of the Ducks.

Oregon, which had blistered the rest of the Pac-10 conference last week was slowed down by Miami's pace and just could not quite find the range – especially in the first half. They finished the first 20 minutes with a cool 36.4 percent field goal shooting percentage and only 1-of-8 in 3-pointers. The second half was remarkably better (50.0 percent 11-of-22 and 4-of-8) while sinking all seven of their free throws.

"The difference was the pressure they (Miami) put on us by slowing down the game," responded Bryce Taylor to the question of what was the difference between last week's hot shooting performance in Los Angeles and today's game in Spokane. "We didn't get up and down as we'd like to and get the open shots."

Aaron Brooks for most of the second half kept the ball in his control and he ended up as the Ducks leading scorer with 18 points followed by 14 from Taylor and 13 from Maarty Leunen. Tim Pollitz was a thorn in the Ducks side all day and was the game's leading scorer with 21 while Michael Bramos finished up with 18.

While the pace seemed to slow to a snail's pace, the Ducks continued to have problems finding scoring solutions as the lead was whittled to a 54-53 Oregon lead with only 46 seconds to play. Two of the Ducks more consistent players, Brooks and Leunen were able finish of the game at the free throw line by sinking four free throws. Leading 58-53 Bramos hit a miraculous 40-footer with one second left on the clock by as the ball hit to flour after the basket, the game clock had expired.

The arena that seats nearly 12,000 had few vacant seats for the game and Oregon is the closest school to the venue, so the crowd was predominately Duck fans. A huge sigh of relief arose from the Oregon faithful as the victorious green and yellow left the court. The next task is Sunday when Oregon takes on Winthrop a 74-64 winner over Notre Dame in the first game of the afternoon. Oregon met Winthrop on Dec. 22, 2004 and won that contest 71-56 in Eugene.

Defense won the game for the Ducks today as the potent offense dealt with a pace that they did not dictate. Oregon struggled in the middle but was rescued for the most part by the play of Catron, especially in the first half when Oregon was looking at the 9-0 deficit. Even though Miami kept the Oregon jump shooters off their mark, the Ducks still managed to make big plays when they most needed it. Kent called the game a "learning experience" and said "defense is the key in this tourney."

No matter what anyone thought of the beauty of the win, it in fact was a win and means that the Ducks advance on. A standard phrase in coach speak is "one game at a time" and in the case of the Oregon Ducks in the NCAA Tournament, nothing could be more true.

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