Beach's Breakdown - Oregon

The Washington Huskies men's basketball team heads south to meet the Oregon Ducks Thursday night in Eugene. In what can only be described as a 'must win' road trip, the Huskies face a Ducks team reeling from a 0-4 conference start and some internal strife between head coach Ernie Kent and some of his top players.

Decimated by the losses of seniors Malik Hairston, Bryce Taylor and Marty Luenan to graduation, the Ducks welcomed in a solid crop of freshmen in what has been widely considered Coach Ernie Kent's top recruiting class in his 12-year tenure at Oregon. Unfortunately for Kent, his team has endured the inevitable growing pains of fielding such a young squad and have paid a heavy price to date.

The 6-10 Ducks are led by sharp-shooting mighty mite Tajuan Porter (13.4 points per game), a streaky smurf of a player who recently dropped 24 points in a close loss to UCLA. Regrettably, Porter's status for the Washington game is up in the air after being benched Saturday for waving off Coach Kent during their loss this past Saturday to Arizona State. Porter has seen his production diminish from his freshman season when he thrived with all of the attention paid to his higher-profile teammates. He still remains a dangerous threat when he gets hot, as he proved against the Bruins.

Coach Kent spreads the minutes around generously, with nine players on the roster averaging double-digit minutes. Porter is the only player averaging more than 24 minutes per game. Sophomore LeKendric Longmire (10.4 points per game, 3.4 rebounds per game) and freshman Garrett Sim (9.1 points per game) provide needed athleticism and firepower, bombing away from outside in typical Oregon fashion. The Ducks have made 119 3-pointers so far this season, second in the Pac-10 behind the Sun Devils.

The Ducks' front court showcases several quality young bodies learning on the job. Blue Chip freshman Michael Dunigan (10.1 points per game, 5.4 rebounds per game) is a fantastic talent who has a hard time staying on the court longer than 15 minutes due to his penchant for fouling. His production has curtailed in conference play as a result. Talented widebody Joevan Catron (8.3 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game, 2.7 assists per game) is a beast on the boards and leads his team in assists. A reputation for a bad attitude has limited his contributions on the court recently.

Keeping true to their one-dimensional reputation, the Ducks are one of the Pac-10's finest 3-point shooting teams. Unfortunately, that success doesn't carry over to other facets of the game as they average at or near the bottom of the conference in most other statistical categories - including scoring defense (76.6 points allowed per game, worst in the Pac-10).

Washington, if the past few games is any indication, will pound away on the Ducks' thin front court, and the UW forwards should be in for another big night, picking away at their overmatched opponents. Meanwhile, Washington freshman Isaiah Thomas finally gets his chance to show that he's not Porter – a player he was often (in error) compared to prior to his arrival at Montlake. Thomas is a difficult match up for most players: For Porter, who cares as much about playing defense as he apparently does listening to his coach, Zeke could be a handful.

This is a game that Washington must win if they want to remain a contender for the conference championship and an NCAA tournament appearance. Forget the concerns about the Ducks always playing tough in Eugene. This is not the same Oregon Ducks team of recent years facing a confident Washington. The Huskies should have little trouble handling their hated rival.

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