There was no doubt, Saturday evening's game versus the Cougars of Washington State carried a bit of a bittersweet taste. The game not only marked the final Pac-10 game to be played at McArthur Court, but amidst swirling reports that their coach had already been fired, it also marked the final time seniors Tajuan Porter and Joevan Catron would appear in front of the Mac Court faithful as members of the Oregon basketball team.
The Ducks won this day, defeating Washington State by eight points and sending their seniors out on a positive note. Four Ducks scored in double figures, with junior forward LeKendric Longmire leading the way with 17 points and 10 rebounds; his first career double-double. The victory kept the Ducks out of the conference cellar and the fans celebrated by rushing the court and chanting, "Long live Mac!". Porter, who scored 12 points in his final home game, soaked in the moment before being taken out of the game; waving, bowing, and even curtsying to the crowd before heading to the bench.
"I was just giving my final goodbyes to the Mac Court fans," said Porter,
"They've been unbelievable my whole career and I just wanted to thank them. They support us through the ups and downs and they come back and lift us up. We play off their energy. Mac Court is them."
Only five three-pointers shy of the conference record, Porter will have one more opportunity to etch his name in the record books as the Ducks head in to conference tournament play on Wednesday. With a tremendous career winding to a close, Oregon head coach Ernie Kent gushed about Porter's impact on the Oregon basketball program.
"T.P. has meant so much to this program, said Kent,
"One of the things we've always been so proud about is that they had a lot of great numbers on him -- Elite Eight, MVP of probably the most dominating conference championship game I've ever seen, etc -- but the most impressive thing to me about Tajuan is that he's graduating early from the University of Oregon."
Along with Longmire and Porter, freshman forward E.J. Singler and sophomore center Jeremy Jacob each chipped in 15 and 11 points, respectively, to help lead the Ducks this evening. Washington State's Klay Thompson led all scorers with 22.
Yet, with the sweetness of the victory, there was a bitterness and an unmistakable cloud hanging over tonight's game.
Was this Ernie Kent's final game at Mac Court as the Ducks' head man?
Mid-way through the second half, rumors began to circulate through press row that this was indeed Kent's final regular season game as head coach. Local news stations and outlets were reporting that a decision to fire Kent had been made days after the Ducks lost at home to California. The Oregon Athletic Department has declined to comment on the situation and afterwards, Kent declined to address questions regarding the reports, choosing instead to focus on the win and great careers of both Porter and Catron. Sitting in the press room in the bowels of that historic building, one got the feeling that the coach was silently acknowledging the writing on the proverbial wall, the players however were quick to rush to the defense of their coach.
"We all want to see coach here," said Longmire, who was suspended earlier in the season by Kent for academic issues.
"We're all aware of everything that's going on in the media and on the internet and things, but coach is a great guy. He's helped us grow as men as well as players...of course we've had two down years, but you always want to win for your coach especially when you care about him like we do."
"Hopefully they bring him back," said Porter of Kent.
"I think he deserves to coach at least one more year in the new arena...we support him and I love him to death because he gave me an opportunity to play here at the University of Oregon and not many universities gave me an opportunity."
As concerned parties wait and watch for a verdict on Kent's future, attention now focuses to the Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles where the Ducks will face the Cougars once again in the opening round game the night of March 10. According to Longmire, duplicating tonight's effort will be key to advancing against Washington State on Wednesday.
"As long as we do that, we should beat them again."
Ducks Close Out Pac-10 Play At Mac With Win
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