The Oregon men's basketball team hopes to do something their football counterparts could not do: repeat as Pac-10 champions. With a No. 10 ranking in the ESPN/Coaches poll and a 10-3 (1-2 in conference) season, the Ducks are trying to wing their way to a strong presence in the Pac-10 race.
Oregon is led by the two Lukes (Ridnour and Jackson). Luke Ridnour (6-2, 175) is arguably one of the top point guards nationally and is averaging 19.3 points per game, 6.75 assists per game and two steal per game. Ridnour is the spark for the Ducks' engine and was scintillating in December, shooting .351 percent from three-point range on 26 of 74. The lightning quick guard from Blaine, Washington has a soul mate in Luke Jackson (6-7, 210). So far this season, Jackson is averaging 17.5 ppg, a blistering .455 percentage on three-pointers (20-44) and seven rebounds per game. The Ducks do not have a physical player in the mode of Freddy Jones this season, but the Luke-to-Luke connection has created some highlight plays to the delight of Duck fans.
Jackson became the 23rd member of the Oregon 1,000 (career points) club when he scored his 18th point against Arizona State. Jackson now has 1,029 career points while Ridnour has 996 points through Thursday's game. Jackson had a triple-double this season against Florida A&M with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. This was the second triple of his career. He recorded the same feat against Washington in the 2000-01 season (14-11-10).
Junior guard James Davis (5-10, 175) is a streak shooter who has the green light from Head Coach Ernie Kent to shoot at will. Davis is averaging 10.8 ppg, and shoots a healthy .424 (36-85). Redshirt freshman Ian Crosswhite (6-11, 250) brings an offensive presence to the center position that was missing from last year's squad. Crosswhite has a deadly shot from the top of the key and is scoring at a 10.3 ppg clip. The big left-hander shoots .474 percent beyond the three-point line on nine of 19, and 3.58 rebounds per game. The workhorse underneath the boards this season is 6-8, 245, senior Robert Johnson. Johnson is the team leader when it comes to field goal percentages, shooting .719 on 41 of 57. Johnson scores from point blank range and scraps for nearly seven rebounds per game.
Bench play has been very important to the Ducks this year and the two players coming off the bench have been senior Brian Helquist (6-9, 260) and junior college transfer Andre Joseph (6-4, 185). Helquist is a big body that takes a lot of room underneath the basket and has been averaging 5.1 points per game and just under four rebounds per contest. Joseph is a physical player with nice three-point accuracy and is scoring 8.8 points, .326 percent on three point shots (15-46) and 2.2 assists per game. Helquist has appeared in 10 of the Ducks' 12 games. One other weapon for the Ducks is Jay Anderson (6-9, 220), who will also put up the three-point shot. True freshman Brandon Lincoln from Jefferson High School in Portland has been seeing playing time and is five of seven from the three-point line. Redshirt freshman Matt Short (7-0, 235) is also seeing action.
The Ducks are a quick transition team that utilizes ball movement, free throws and three-pointers to outscore opponents. Oregon is shooting as a team .728 (211-290) from the charity stripe. The Ducks have more assists than their opponents do this year - 18.8 assists per game compared to 11.0 for the foes. They are a finesse team that can have problems against physical play as demonstrated by the loss to Cincinnati 77-52 in East Rutherford, NJ, on December 17th. Last weekend Arizona snapped the 24-game home win streak at McArthur Court in Eugene with an 81-72 victory. The Ducks though bounced back to easily defeat Arizona State 93-72 on Saturday. Defensively the Ducks will switch off from zone to man-to-man and it is not uncommon to see the old Kamikaze style of play Kent learned as a player at Oregon - diving for loose balls and creating turnovers.
Crosswhite has good size, speed and quickness for a 6-11 player and is improving his defensive positioning as he learns the game. Johnson's play has been very steady but the Ducks win or lose on the play of Ridnour and Jackson. The two All-Americans have been mentioned as NBA material and well suited for the hands-off style of Pac-10 play. Ridnour learned a valuable lesson from Cincinnati in that he can expect teams to attack him and attempt to frustrate him in the half-court with hand checking and body contact away from the ball.
The high point for the Ducks so far this season was the successful Papé Jam held at the Rose Garden in Portland. For the first time this season the Trailblazers home court was sold out and rocking in front of a nationally televised audience and 20,000 screaming fans. Oregon defeated Kansas 84-78 to propel them into the national spotlight. The Ducks reached No. 6 at one point during the season and that is the highest ranking the Ducks have had since winning the NCAA championship in 1939.
The low point might have come Thursday night, when Oregon lost to Cal, 88-72, and the weakness that showed up earlier in the loss to Cincinnati was revealed again. The Ducks were bothered by physical play and their two stars, Jackson and Ridnour, could not find their shooting touch. Ridnour finished the game with 14 points but was 2-for-9 from three-point land. Jackson finished with 17 points but was only able to put a total of eight shots. Jackson was 2-of-5 for field goals and 1-of-3 for three-pointers.
"When they took us out of our system a little bit, we lost our composure," Kent told the Oregon Sports Network after the loss.