After wining two nail biters to get to the tournament championship game, the Oregon Ducks found themselves in another back and forth affair with today's opponent from Los Angeles. Oregon jumped out to a 14-4 lead early in the ballgame. USC fired right back and went on a 15-0 run, taking the lead 19-14 with 12:00 to go in the first half. The two squads battled for the rest of the half with neither team taking control of the game. At the end of the half the Ducks led 37-35.
"We got off to a good start and they were a little slow coming out of the gate," Oregon Assistant Coach Scott Duncan told OSN. "Then we got a little tired and they put something together."
(PHOTO RIGHT) Oregon's James Davis celebrates after scoring against Southern California during the second half of the Pacific 10 tournament championship game Saturday, March 15, 2003, in Los Angeles. Oregon won 74-66. (AP Photo/Lucy Nicholson)
In the second half, the Ducks finally took control of the game. After USC big man Rory O'Neil scored the first hoop of the half, the Ducks went on a 10-0 run taking a 47-37 lead with 17:04 left. Oregon held onto their lead due to big plays from Luke Ridnour and Luke Jackson. With little over 8:00 to go in the game though, Oregon started doing what UCLA did last night. They started playing not to lose.
The Ducks went into a total stall mode. Their offense went away from everything that worked so well earlier. Shots stopped coming and they became very worried about the clock. It was during this stretch that USC's Derrick Craven went on a tear. In a four and a half-minute span from 8:21 to go until 3:51 left, Craven scored nine straight points. Tough USC pressure defense held Oregon off of the scoreboard and with 3:51 to go in the game, the Ducks lead had dwindled to 69-63.
Oregon fought to hold onto their lead but USC fought harder. Great defense allowed Derrick Craven to hit another big hoop with 2:21 left. His drive and bucket brought the Trojans to within four points at 70-66.
That big basket would be USC's last score. With 1:26 left, Luke Jackson followed a Luke Ridnour missed three pointer with a rebound and huge basket that put Oregon back up six points. Then it was USC's turn to get out of their style of basketball. During their second half run, the Trojans were getting points from getting interior jump shots and getting to the rim. Now the Trojans started to shoot the long ball and it was not falling.
(PHOTO LEFT) Oregon coach Ernie Kent points from the bench during the second half of the Pac-10 championship game against Southern California on Saturday, March 15, 2003, in Los Angeles. Oregon defeated Southern California 74-66. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
"After playing those two tough games our team really responded (today)," Luke Ridnour told OSN. "We did get tired towards the end of the game but we played through it. This will get us ready to play in the NCAA Tournament."
The Ducks closed the game out at the free throw line with Robert Johnson and Jackson both making big free throws. As the final horn sounded, Oregon had secured their spot in The Big Dance, while USC would be on the outside looking in.
When the game finished physical exhaustion showed on the faces of the Ducks. They gave it everything they had.
"We wanted to leave everything out on the court and that's what we did," Robert Johnson told OSN.
One of the big keys for Oregon in the second half was shutting down Desmond Farmer. In the first half he had 19 points. In the second half he was 0-6 from the floor with zero points. USC Coach Henry Bibby also sat Farmer a number of times in the final period, something that didn't sit well with Staples Center fans who booed a couple of Bibby's substitution choices in the second half.
(PHOTO RIGHT) Southern California's Desmon Farmer, right, blocks a shot by Oregon's Luke Jackson during the second half of the championship game of the Pac-10 tournament Saturday, March 15, 2003, in Los Angeles. Oregon defeated Southern California 74-66. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Farmer still led the Trojans in scoring with his 19 in 28 minutes. Rory O'Neil was huge for USC making a number of clutch shots. He finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Derrick Craven's second half burst accounted for 11 of his 13 points off of the bench.
The Ducks were led, once again by Luke Ridnour, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. Ridnour had 18 points and nine assists in 37 minutes. Luke Jackson was named to the all-tournament team and finished with another double-double. He had 17 points and 11 rebounds. James Davis was also named to the all-tournament team and finished with 12 points in 36 minutes. Robert Johnson would up one rebound shy of a double-double tonight. Johnson had 10 points and nine boards in 37 minutes.
Ridnour actually set another Pac-10 record today. He broke Gary Payton and Brandon Granville's Pac-10 Tournament record for most assists in a tournament. Ridnour's record stands at 24.
(PHOTO LEFT) Oregon's Luke Ridnour, center, goes up for a shot against Southern California's Robert Hutchinson, left, during the second half of the Pac-10 conference final in Los Angeles, Saturday, March 15, 2003. Ridnour scored 18 points as Oregon won 74-66. (AP Photo/Lucy Nicholson)
Now it is time for the Ducks to wait on the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Sunday the committee will meet in Kansas City to decide the fate of 65 college basketball teams from around the country. Today's win assures Oregon that they will be one of them.
"We can enjoy this tonight but we've got work to do for the NCAA Tournament," Ridnour said. "We want to do what we did last year."
Earlier on Sunday though, the Oregon Ducks will return to Eugene. On OSN, Jerry Allen reported that the Ducks would arrive at the Len Casanova Athletic Center at 1:30pm. Fans can join the team there for a parking lot celebration of the Tournament Championship.
Stats from www.goducks.com.