VU hopes to shoot down high-flying Ducks

After a home win over Austin Peay, Vanderbilt makes its second west coast trip of the season Saturday to meet Oregon (3-0). Can the Commodores (4-2) prove themselves road-worthy against Coach Ernie Kent's undefeated Ducks? Here's a scouting report, as well as VeeMan's fearless prediction.<P><i> Tipoff: 6 pm CT at Portland's Rose Garden. TV: UPN Channel 14 in Nashville; ESPN FullCourt. Radio: 104.5 The Zone.

A 13-of-25 shooting performance from 3-point range sparked Vanderbilt to a 74-58 victory over the Austin Peay Governors in Nashville on Wednesday. The Commodores led all the way, and had a healthy 35-18 margin at halftime. Mario Moore fired in 23 points, including 5-of-7 3-point attempts, and Dawid Przybyszewski scored 11, making three of his four 3-point tries.

The University of Oregon is located in Eugene, but annually they play a game in Portland as part of a local event, the "Pape Jam." This will be the fourth time that Vanderbilt has played the Ducks and the second time they have met in Portland; the first time was Dec. 22, 1998. On that occasion the Ducks handed the Commodores a 90-70 licking, led by an 18-point performance from Fred Jones. Dan Langhi scored 15 for Vanderbilt. The previous year, Vanderbilt defeated Oregon in Nashville 69-58, with Drew Maddux scoring 19 and Billy DiSpaltro adding 14. Vanderbilt also beat Oregon 70-59 in 1967 (in the Vanderbilt Invitational) and 83-81 in 1992 (in the Great Alaska Shootout).

Oregon is coached by Ernie Kent (right), now in his eighth season at the helm. He has compiled an excellent 138-81 record at his alma mater, his best years being 2001-02 (26-9) and 2002-03 (23-10). Last season the Ducks were 18-13 overall and 9-9 in conference play. Three of Kent's players (Jones, Luke Ridnour, and Luke Jackson) are playing in the NBA. Ernie was himself a star player at Oregon back in the 1970s. He coached the al-Khaleej Club in Sayhat, Saudi Arabia, from 1980-87, then spent two years as an assistant coach at Colorado State and one at Stanford. He was head coach at St. Mary's in California for six years with a record of 90-80, before returning to Oregon in 1997-98.

Oregon has opened this season 3-0, opening with a 77-51 home victory over Idaho State and following with a 79-75 win over New Mexico, also at home. Most recently the Ducks went on the road and crushed Marshall 89-69 in Huntington, W.V., hitting over 60% of their shots from their floor and going 21-13 from behind the 3-point line.

The Ducks lost three starters from last season, including Jackson (21.2 ppg, 7 rebounds). The two returning starters are 6-11 junior Ian Crosswhite (right), a 250-pound Australian who averaged 12.5 ppg, and point guard Aaron Brooks (7.0 ppg, 2.7 assists). Crosswhite is scoring 13.3 ppg so far this season and leads the team in rebounds (average of 6.3). Brooks is the leading scorer (17.0 ppg) and is averaging an impressive 7.7 assists per game, with an assist/turnover ratio of nearly 4:1. He is a dangerous outside shooter.

Kent recruited an impressive group of freshmen, and two of them have moved right into the starting lineup. 6-5 Bryce Taylor is an outstanding long-range bomber who makes 56.2% of his 3-point attempts and averages 13.3 ppg. 6-6 Malik Hairston was a McDonald's All-American, and is a versatile all-around player who is scoring 13.7 ppg. He is a likely future All-American and may well become the next Oregon player to advance to the NBA.

6-10 sophomore Mitch Platt (5.4 ppg in his freshman year) is the fifth starter, but he has been suffering from an injured foot that has severely limited his playing time. 6-9 freshman Marty Leeunen is averaging 18 minutes per game, but sprained an ankle in the Marshall game and his status for the Vanderbilt game is uncertain. 6-8 sophomore Adam Zahn hasn't been able to play at all because of an ankle injury.

With all these injuries, one would think that Kent might be almost out of men who can work with Crosswhite underneath the basket. Not so; 7-0 redshirt freshman Ray Schafer has been playing nearly 15 minutes per game, and 7-0 junior Matt Short has seen significant action in the past. This is one team that has even more size than Vanderbilt, although the injuries to Platt and Leeunen may reduce the amount available.

Freshman Chamberlain Oguchi (6-5) and redshirt sophomore Jordan Kent (also 6-5) see a lot of action. Kent is averaging 6.0 ppg and yes, he is Ernie's son. Oguchi, who was interested in Vanderbilt before he signed with Oregon, is scoring 5.7 ppg. 6-4 junior Brandon Lincoln is scoring 5.0 ppg and has had a lot of playing time in the previous two years. 6-2 sophomore Kenny Love, a transfer, is a point guard and gives Brooks a chance to rest now and then.

Oregon has a lot of firepower in Brooks, Hairston, Crosswhite and Taylor, and several other players (Kent, Leeunen, Oguchi, Lincoln, Platt, Schafer) are capable of helping them out significantly. Brooks (34 minutes of playing time per game) is the indispensable man, with his playmaking, shooting, and running of the team. Rebounding might be a weak area until Platt and Leeunen are back in shape, and New Mexico licked the Ducks soundly on the boards on their home court.

One key to the game for Vanderbilt may be to contain Brooks. Presumably he will have to be guarded by Vanderbilt's small guards (Moore, Gordon), for whom he will be a handful. That would leave defensive stoppers Jason Holwerda and Corey Smith to try to contain Taylor and Hairston. Presumably Brooks will be on Mario Moore defensively.

If the Commodores shoot well from the outside and do a good job of ball-handling, they could win. Unfortunately the ball-handling issue is not yet resolved, and outside shooting always varies considerably from game to game. Therefore I'm predicting Oregon to win by five to ten points.

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