With Their Heart on Their Sleeves

Coming into this game, the Oregon Ducks knew it was a must-win situation. They had to beat the USC Trojans to stay in the NCAA Tournament hunt. <BR><BR>(PHOTO LEFT) <I>Southern California's Gregg Guenther, right, grabs a rebound away from Oregon's Ian Crosswhite during the first half Thursday, Feb. 27, 2003, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)</I>

That must-win became a difficult one when the Ducks learned this week that guard Andre Joseph would be suspended for the game because of an argument in the Washington game. However, the Men of Oregon showed more heart than has been seen in Mac Court for a long time and pulled out a 79-66 win Thursday night.

Even though Oregon (19-7, 9-6) trailed by as much as twelve points in the first half, the Ducks never lost hope. At times USC (10-14, 5-10) was so hot, there was a feeling in Mac Court that they could have pulled up from anywhere and nailed one. However, in a two minute stretch starting at the 5:57 mark, Oregon went on an 8-0 run, with six of those points belonging to Luke Jackson. That run helped Oregon cut the USC lead to one point at 44-43 at halftime.

"USC came out and stuck dagger after dagger into us," Jackson said. "We just did what it took to win."

(PHOTO RIGHT)Oregon's Luke Ridnour puts in a layup against Southern California's Derrick Craven during the second half Thursday, Feb. 27, 2003, iN Eugene, Ore. Oregon won 79-66. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

In the second half, with 12:40 to go, a Luke Ridnour free throw gave Oregon a 59-58 lead and they never looked back. The Ducks pushed the lead out to as much as 15 points late and cruised through the final few minutes.

So many people in Mac Court tonight displayed the heart that gave the Ducks the power to win.

Luke Ridnour: He was the quintessential leader tonight. Ridnour gave a spark to the team when they needed it and as usual, carried them through rough stretches. Tonight he was the leading scorer with 23 points. He also spread the ball around wonderfully; he was credited with six assists. Ridnour was very emotional in this game, continually motioning to the crowd to get even louder and being the emotional leader he normally is.

Luke Jackson: Although his hand is still just "85 per-cent," Jackson was spectacular tonight. He finished with 22 points and six rebounds but more important was his defense. USC players rarely scored against Jackson and five times he stole the ball away from them, which got Oregon into the transition game.

James Davis: Nobody got the long ball going tonight for Oregon and many basketball fans would think that would mean Davis would have a rough game. He had just the opposite. When the Ducks were in transition, Davis found open men all over the place. He also was very solid on defense; stifling USC guards all game long.

Robert Johnson: In his second to last game at Mac Court, Johnson played the role fans have gotten used to seeing him play. His flat out hustle all over the court frustrated Trojans from start to finish. He went on the ground after loose balls, blocked shots and was all over the boards. Johnson finished with 12 points and seven boards.

(PHOTO LEFT) Oregon's Robert Johnson, center, pulls down a rebound against Southern California's Rory O'Neil, left, and Desmon Farmer during the second half Thursday, Feb. 27, 2003, in Eugene, Ore. Oregon won 79-66. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Brian Helquist: Oregon's other senior, Helquist played one of his best games all year. In 21 minutes, Helquist's defense and hustle set him apart from USC big men. His physical play made it tough for the Trojans on both ends of the floor and his boxing out was very key to Oregon's 39-38 rebounding edge tonight.

Matt Short: Off the bench, this Oregon center played great. He provided energy and offense when Oregon needed it. His six points came on 3-4 shooting.

Brandon Lincoln: Lincoln is proving to be a very energetic backup point guard. However, it is his calm on the floor that gives Oregon an edge when he is matched up with other guards. Without Ridnour in the game tonight, Lincoln ran the offense very well.

Jay Anderson: Although only in the game for seven minutes, Anderson played solid defense and set great picks tonight. He did the little things that he is needed to do in order for the Ducks to win.

Andre Joseph: Joseph could have sulked tonight since he was not going to play in the game. However, he turned out being Oregon's loudest cheerleader, trying to get the fans into the game, cheering his teammates on and jumping off the bench at timeouts giving high fives to the Ducks that were on the floor.

Ernie Kent: Coach Kent and the rest of the coaching staff put together a great game plan for tonight's game. They broke down the USC offense and sent a prepared defense out there to shut it down.

"I can't tell you what our adjustment was to Desmon Farmer because we might play them in the tournament," Kent said. "The big thing was that we put it on the board and the kids went out and did it.

(PHOTO RIGHT) Oregon fans hold placards of Southern California basketball coach Henry Bibby, welcoming him before the game between Oregon and USC, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2003, at McArthur Court in Eugene, Ore., in response to his comments that Ducks fans were rude to him during last year's trip to Eugene. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

The Crowd: Mac Court was as loud as it has been all season during this contest. Kent and many players kept urging the fans to be louder and they responded from all corners of the building.

"It's always an advantage to play in The Pit," Brian Helquist said. "Having the Pit Crew on your side is a huge boost."

Ernie Kent also passed a milestone with this win. Kent passed his own coach, Dick Harter into fifth place on the all-time Oregon coaching wins with 113.

"I've had some great teams and staffs (that contributed to this)," Kent said. "I've had a great opportunity here at Oregon to be able to do that because I always thought Coach Harter was a great basketball coach."

USC battled tonight but came up short in the end. Desmon Farmer finished with 15 points on 4-13 shooting. All of his field goals were scored in the first five minutes of the game. Roydell Smiley put up 13 points in 24 minutes. Gregg Guenther, Jr. added 12 points and 11 rebounds and Errick Craven scored 10 points in 33 minutes.

The Trojans will travel to Corvallis to battle the Oregon State Beavers on Saturday. That game will start at 4:00.

Oregon will look to send their seniors with a home victory this Saturday as the UCLA Bruins come to town. CBS will pick up this game on their regional coverage with Jim Spanarkel and Ian Eagle calling the game. Tip-off will be at 1:00.

Stats from www.goducks.com.

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