Defense Leads To Offense

Prior to Sunday's game, if Duck fans were told that the No. 5 Oregon Ducks could win when the Lukes (Jackson and Ridnour) combine for 25 points and the normally raucous Mac Court crowd being more mumble than rumble for nearly the entire game - most fans would have said that it could never happen. Those fans would be wrong though as the Ducks rode Ian Crosswhite's broad shoulders to victory, 90-81 over the No. 25 Minnesota Golden Gophers.

This game was another important test for the Ducks, facing another ranked team early in the year. "Now we have covered everything in the preseason," Oregon Coach Ernie Kent told OSN. "The tough game against Kansas on a neutral floor in front of 20,000, a tough road game against Pepperdine, losing in the Meadowlands, and then to come back on a Pac10 (style) weekend with back to back games and play a team the caliber of Minnesota and get through this game. This is a battle tested basketball team."

Today's contest looked a little like the Cincinnati game in the early going. Oregon struggled offensively, but unlike the Cincinnati game, the Oregon defense pulled them through many times. The Ducks forced 16 Golden Gopher turnovers in the first half. Andre Joseph and Luke Ridnour in particular were solid on defense, but it was really a team effort. Minnesota threw the ball away a number of times because there would be great pressure on the ball and then there would be nobody to throw to.

Coach Kent was very excited about his team's first half defense. "It was the best defensive effort I've ever had a team put forth for me in that first half," Kent said.

The turning point in the first half was an Oregon defensive play. Joseph and Ridnour knocked the ball into the backcourt and then applied pressure to the Minnesota player who had to call time out with only five seconds remaining on the shot clock. Then after inbounding the ball, Minnesota was unable to get a shot off inside those five seconds, giving Oregon the ball back.

Oregon came right down the floor and cut the Minnesota lead to four points at 19-15 with a Jackson put back. Minnesota continued to turn the ball over under tough Oregon defense that led to a 14-0 Oregon run. After trailing 13-6 early, the Ducks wound up leading 38-31 at the half.

The first half finished up with a flurry from Ridnour. After a missed three point attempt by Oregon, Ridnour faked going down court, turned and deflected a Minnesota backcourt pass. He didn't have total control of the ball though, and after knocking the ball away fell over. Ridnour was flat on his face, but somehow popped right back up, grabbing the ball, and made a layup while being fouled. Ridnour made the free throw. He was given the ball again in Oregon's last possession of the half and drilled a pull up 16 foot jumper on the left side to give the Ducks their seven point lead.

It was three pointers galore to start the second half. James Davis, Ridnour, Joseph and Crosswhite all got in on the action for the Ducks. Minnesota was led by one man - Steve Esselink. Esselink had a career high of two three pointers in one game prior to this one. Today he drilled six big three pointers, keeping Minnesota in the ball game.

Minnesota closed the gap to four points with 7:50 to go when Rick Rickart drilled a short shot. But Oregon pushed the lead back out to nine points with a Crosswhite three pointer and a Robert Johnson layup.

Oregon's lead was cut to three points at the 3:10 mark after senior forward Jerry Holman hit for two following a Kevin Burleson three pointer, putting the score at 75-72. After a Joseph three pointer, Holman made a huge dunk to keep it within four points. Rickert fouled out soon after though, and Oregon was able to hold onto the lead for the rest of the game.

Esselink's 18 points led the Golden Gophers on the day. Jerry Holman had 17 points and Burleson added 11 points and seven assists. Star forward Rick Rickart was held to only eight points in fifteen minutes today.

It was key for Oregon to keep Rickart out of the game for the Ducks. Rickart found foul trouble early and was never able to get into the grove that allowed him to dismantle the Ducks last season.

The Ducks' key scoring came, not from the starters, but from two bench players. Crosswhite had 18 points in 19 minutes before fouling out and Joseph added 14 points, 11 of which came in the second half. Ridnour added 15 points and Jackson had 10 points and seven rebounds.

This was the first ranked non-conference opponent to travel to Eugene and Mac Court since the Fresno State Bulldogs made the trip in 1996. The Bulldogs were the 13th ranked team in the nation and were upset 87-75.

Minnesota's record goes to 6-2 after today's loss. They will face Coach Bobby Knight's Texas Tech Red Raiders in Minnesota on December 28th. The Ducks' home winning streak is now at 22 straight, one away from a school record. Oregon will look to extend their streak, which is the fifth-longest in the nation, next Saturday, December 28th, against Cal-State Riverside in Mac Court at 2:30pm.


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