Ducks Head To St. Louis

Spokane – Employing aggressive defensive switching and relying on great on-court communication the Oregon Ducks (28-7) smashed the Winthrop Eagles 29-5) hopes of being the 2007 Cinderella. Looking as though they were wearing a size five the Eagles could not find spots to hit their jumpers and could no more get to the basket than an ugly step-sister could put on a glass slipper.

(PHOTO) Tajuan Porter (12) hits for 3 - Porter scored 11 of Oregon's first 13 points Sunday afternoon in their 75-61 defeat of Winthrop (Photo by Chris Wilson)

"For an eight or nine minute stretch in that second half we did a great job of getting stops in that second half," said Oregon Head Coach Ernie Kent in evaluating his team's performance. "We got into transition and really ran them (Winthrop) up and down the court."

The Ducks used their aggressive defense by switching defenders and were simply in better shape. The Ducks closed off lanes to the basket and every time a Winthrop player looked to take a jumper there was a hand in his face. At one point, 5-foot-6 Tajuan Porter found himself switched to guard Winthrop's big 6-10 center Craig Bradshaw. Bradshaw was so surprised by Porter's presence that he took extra steps.

"I held my ground," responded Porter as he answered questions after the game on the NCAA's podium. "He (Bradshaw) didn't see me and he walked."

Overhearing Porter's response, teammate Aaron Brooks said to Porter in a quiet voice, "Nobody can see you."

The defensive pressure heated up toward the end of the first half when the Ducks' took a 33-29 lead into halftime. For much of the first half the Ducks either trailed or played evenly. As the half neared, the Duck defenders turned things up a notch and that would foretell things to come.

When the horn sounded for the second half to begin, the Ducks came out on fire and took control of the game and eventually held a 19-point lead twice (67-48 and 69-50) with just under four minutes to play in the game. After that it was a matter of coasting and at one point the predominate Duck crowd were calling for seldom used Ray Shaffer to be put into the game. Although Shaffer was not inserted into the contest, he along with all his teammates were all smiles with the win that propelled them to the Swee-16 next week against UNLV in St. Louis.

"It was a complete team effort," said Oregon's Bryce Taylor of the game. "I feel like everybody came to play and we should feel really good about ourselves right now."

Brooks was the leading scorer with 22 points on 8-for-15 in field goal shooting including 5-for-9 from 3-point land. Porter added 14 while Malik Hairston had 13 points, six rebounds, two blocks and Maarty Leunen chipped in 12 points and pulled down four boards.

Winthrop was led in scoring by Torrell Martin's 15 points while Chris Gaynor added 12 and Bradshaw had 10.

"They made some great shots," said Bradshaw of the Ducks. "That was the thing that broke us, we couldn't score, we couldn't handle their defense."

Now for the second time in Ernie Kent's tenure at Oregon the Ducks are in the Sweet-16. The last time was in 2002 when the Ducks made it as far as the Elite-8 before losing to Kansas. With today's win the Ducks will take on UNLV, a 46-41 winner over Wisconsin.

Today's effort was far more energetic by the Ducks than Friday's win over Miami of Ohio. Of course Winthrop was more willing to keep the pace up-tempo and when things came right down to it, the Ducks had too many great shooters and athletes. For the second week in a row Oregon shot a decent field goal percentage (48.2 percent) and it was an active, aggressive defense that kept the other team away from getting easy shots.

Can this trend continue for four more games? Ernie Kent smiled when asked the question.

"I hope so," responded Kent to the question about his team's run. "They look pretty energized to me. We just have to manage their legs and give them a couple days off and not over stress them with too much preparation and let them go play."

For the last few weeks the Ducks have been one of the hottest team in college basketball and are now on an 8-game win streak. All season it has been one game at a time for the coach and Kent indicated he is still upset with losing 17 games last year. He also mentions that his squad endured a lot of adversity the last couple of seasons, but at this point the Ducks and their fans have to be feeling pretty good about the state of Oregon basketball and the trip to the Sweet-16.

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