Can Cougs threepeat against hot-handed Ducks?

THE CRIMSON FAITHFUL better not be counting their lucky stars that the Cougs open the Pac-10 basketball tournament against Oregon, a team they've swept this season, rather than Arizona, a team that has pounded them twice. The Ducks, you see, are shooting the lights out of the ball right now. And they're on the March Madness bubble, which means they must beat WSU to lock down a Dance invitation.

The Ducks, as they have for the last two weeks, find their backs against the wall. So far, they're thriving under the pressure.

Courtesy of a 78-69 thumping of Arizona in Eugene on Saturday, the web-feet concluded the regular season on a three-game roll to secure the No. 6 seed in the Pac-10 tourney. That victory bumped Arizona –- the team thought destined to play the Cougs on Thursday –- into the seventh seed and a Wednesday, play-in date with Oregon State.

Ironically, it's Arizona -- another bubble team -- that could keep the Ducks out of the NCAA tournament. Barring a miracle, the Wildcats will get their 19th win on Wednesday, against the hapless Beavers. That W, plus a name that carries 23 straight Big Dance invitations with it, could separate them from the Ducks if the Cougs prevail on Thursday.

Oregon is 18-12 overall and 9-9 in conference play. Along with Arizona, the Ducks' three-game win streak has come at the expense of Arizona State and Oregon State. And get a load of these numbers from beyond the arc in those three games: 53 percent, 43.5 percent and 52.4 percent.

There's also a little matter of history between the Cougars and Ducks that should concern WSU partisans. Yes, the Cougs have captured the last two meetings –- 62-53 in Eugene last month and 69-60 in a January game in Pullman that the Ducks led for about 37 minutes. But before that, Oregon owned a 13-game win-streak in the series, including a pair of donnybrooks a year ago.

The Ducks are led by 6-9 senior forward Maarty Leunen, who averages 15.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Leunen is also an excellent passer– he's No. 2 on the Ducks in assists, with 88. That's just five behind team leader Kamyron Brown. Leunen also cans a whopping 53 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.

The Ducks' leader scoring, at 16 points per game, is senior Malik Hairston. Pint-sized Tajuan Porter, who lit up the Cougars last season, is their mad bomber from outside – more than half of his 140 field goal attempts this season have come from three-point land.

The Cougars, nationally ranked this entire season, are 23-7 overall and 11-7 in conference play following a dramatic double overtime win over Washington on Saturday. They finished in third place in the Pac-10 behind UCLA and Stanford.

Tip off between the Cougs and Ducks is Thursday at 6 pm at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The winner of that contest will square off Friday against the winner of the Stanford vs. Arizona or Oregon State match up.

Here's the complete tourney break down:

Wednesday:
-UW vs. Cal
-Arizona vs. OSU

Thursday:
-WSU vs. Oregon (6 pm)
-USC vs. ASU
-UCLA vs. winner of UW-Cal
-Stanford vs. winner of Ariz.-OSU

Friday:
- Winner of UCLA vs. Cal-UW takes on winner of USC-ASU
- Winner of Stanford vs. Ariz-OSU takes on winner of WSU-Oregon

Saturday:
Championship game at 3 pm

Regardless of the tourney outcome, it appears that four Pac-10 teams are guaranteed March Madness berths in UCLA, Stanford, WSU and USC. There could, however, be as many as seven. Arizona State is close, and Oregon and Arizona are on the bubble.



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