Win One for the Seniors

Eugene – The Oregon Ducks (18-12, 9-9) absolutely had to beat the Arizona Wildcats (18-13, 8-10) in the final game of the regular season and after 40 minutes of play, the Ducks were celebrating a 78-69 win. The victory ensured the Ducks would get the first day of the Pac-10 Tournament off next week, and also gave the outgoing seniors something to feel extra special about.

(PHOTO) Tajuan Porter (12) hits a long three and was 5-8 beyond the arc in Oregon's 78-69 victory over Arizona on Saturday, March 8, 2008 at McArthur Court. (Photo by Chris Wilson)

"The team ran such good plays tonight," said Oregon Head Coach Ernie Kent of the game. "Everything was so natural. I also want to credit this crowd; they were wonderful. The seniors really led us tonight and I want them to enjoy the moment."

Everything was on the line for this team that has had its ups and downs during the year. For a team that went to the Elite-8 last year and won the Pac-10 Tournament, things didn't exactly fall into place as they would have liked. Many assumed that the Ducks would be a favorite to contend for the conference championship with three returning seniors starting and featuring a line up that can shoot the eyes out of the basket. However, the Pac-10 has been a tough place to get wins and the parity between teams has never been closer.

Tajuan Porter was the man to step up and take control of things by hitting 8-for-11 field goal shooting including 5-for-8 in 3-point shooting and ending up with a total of 24 points. While the game was close throughout the contest, midway through the second half is when Porter started to shine. When the referees made a couple of tough calls, the home crowd erupted and it would have been easy for the Ducks to get caught up in the emotion. However, the team seemed to concentrate even more and found open shooting spots for Porter, Bryce Taylor and Maarty Leunen.

"He was amazing tonight," Malik Hairston said of Porter. "That was the Tajuan that everyone was missing."

Taylor snapped out of a mini slump by scoring 14 points with six of those points coming beyond the 3-point line. Leunen scored 12 points and hauled down 15 rebounds. Leunen also had two 3-pointers. Joevan Catron, along with Leunen had a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Malik Hairston rounded out the double digit scoring with 12 points. For the game the Ducks shot 58 percent, with an impressive 81 percent field goal shooting in the second half. Of course hitting 8-of-9 in 3-point shots didn't hurt.

"They were just on fire tonight, and they did a great job of finishing," observed Kent of his team. "That is a very good basketball team."

Arizona was led by freshman sensation Jerryd Bayless with 19 points. Like Oregon, Arizona had five men in double figure scoring. Chase Budinger added 16 while Nic Wise chipped in 12. Jordan Hill, who looked like he was going to be a real problem for Oregon until he ran into foul problems, had 11. The Wildcats shot 45 percent in field goal shooting for the game on 27-of-60 including 5-for-18 in 3-point attempts.

Oregon out worked Arizona in rebounding, 36-23 and having Hill ride the bench for much of the second half helped the Oregon cause.

"It was a very physical game down low," admitted Budinger. "Boards were a huge key to the game, and they outboarded us."

The game was special for the seniors playing for the last time before the home crowd. The five seniors, Hairston, Leunen, Taylor, Mitch Platt and Ray Schaffer along with manager Josh Suh were introduced with family members prior to the start of the game. Whether last year was their best or not is still to be determined but there was no doubt the real reason why Oregon won this game is that the Ducks wanted the win badly and were willing to what was necessary to win. Whether it be diving for loose ball, hitting tough shots or making an extra effort to get control of a rebound, the Ducks were up to the task.

Kent spoke at some length after the game about the accomplishments of the seniors who traveled across the country to go to Oregon, helped in establishing a competitive program in the Pac-10, and aided in recruiting a great class coming in next year and last but not least, all five graduated from school.

"They all have so much character," Kent said of his senior class. "This program is a better program because of them."

Next up for the Ducks is the Pac-10 Tournament at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Oregon will play Washington State at about 6 p.m. on Thursday. While the Cougars have been a thorn in the side of the Ducks this year, the games have been very close. The Ducks need to beat WSU to keep the NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Last year Oregon was hot going into the tournament and won it. With a three game win streak in tow, Oregon has to feel some of the same kind of magic after an impressive win over Arizona at McArthur Court on Saturday night.

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