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Oregon’s Get Well Week

January 20, 2003 Columns No Comments


Get Well Week

by Jed Tai

It’s been tough recently for the Oregon Ducks.

A loss at home to Arizona on January 2 was bad enough. The fact they had to make a scrambling second-half comeback to beat Arizona State two days later didn’t completely right things either.

To make things worse, Oregon had a disastrous road swing through the Bay Area. If losing to upstart Cal by 16 wasn’t hard enough to swallow, the now-wounded Ducks were blasted out of the water at Stanford by 24.

Out of the Top 10 Oregon fell, down into the 20’s and nearly out of the poll. Serious questions arose if the Ducks were really for real, or if they were just pretenders, flaming out after their hot start. They had lost much of the national respect they once had. What once seemed like a promising season after a nationally televised win over Kansas now looked like a real struggle. The Ducks were in a funk, and head coach Ernie Kent and his team were in search of answers.

They hoped to find those answers – and heal their wounds – as they returned home and took on two in-state rivals last week.

Part I: Back Home…?

First part of the healing process? A game back in the state (last Wednesday at Memorial Coliseum in Portland), to face a down-on-its-luck, 3-12 Portland State team. An easy Duck win where the starters could rest, the team could get back on its game, and relax in the Rose City, right?

Wrong.

Using an inspired performance from junior forward Seth Scott, a fantastic game plan from head coach Heath Schroyer, and a never-quit attitude from all the Vikings coaches and players, the Vikings hung with the more-talented Ducks for 40 minutes before finally succumbing by a score of 69-63.

It was a game that actually started out looking like what everyone expected it to be – a Duck runaway. Behind a fast start from Luke Jackson and Ian Crosswhite, Oregon ran out to a double-digit lead, and a Crosswhite bucket at the 7:08 mark gave the Ducks a 14 point lead. However, at this point PSU fought back and thanks to the inspired play of Kevin Briggs, pulled to within five at 4:46. Despite the effort, the Vikings couldn’t get any closer as Crosswhite’s offense inside and out – he would finish the half with 14 points – lifted the Ducks to a 40-33 halftime advantage.

Despite being down by seven, Schroyer and his team knew they were in good shape. Despite their size disadvantage inside, they were holding their own on the boards with the Ducks. Defensively, they had forced 11 Oregon turnovers. And offensively, led by Briggs and Scott, the Vikings were able to attack the Ducks’ soft interior defense for easy buckets inside.

Knowing these things, the Vikings came out in the second half with fire. PSU attacked Oregon’s soft interior with great success, and started the first 4:30 of the half on a 8-2 run, culminating in Scott finding Brandon Houghton inside for a layup to bring the team to within one, 42-41. However, when things get tight for the Ducks, they have the Lukes to turn to. And this night, Luke Jackson was the man. Jackson scored eight points during a 16-5 Oregon run that gave the Ducks some breathing room and a 58-46 lead at the 8:51 mark.

But the Vikings still had some fight in them, especially Seth Scott. Using his ability to take Oregon’s big men off the dribble, Scott kept the Vikings in the game, and two free throws by Scott at 1:17 had PSU within five, 66-61. But this time it was Luke Ridnour’s turn for the Ducks. His driving hoop quickly brought the lead back up to seven and the Ducks held on for the victory.

Luke Jackson led the way for the Ducks with 21 points and eight rebounds. Ian Crosswhite scored 17 points off the bench, while Luke Ridnour chipped in with 15. Seth Scott paced the Vikings with a career-high 25 points while grabbing 11 rebounds.

There was one common sentiment in the Ducks locker room after the win.

“We just wanted to get through the game without anyone getting hurt and get the win,” said Ridnour.

Ernie Kent echoed his star guard’s comments. “We got through the game with no injuries,” he said.

However, aside from stating the obvious, Kent and his team wouldn’t dwell on the negatives: the team had been outrebounded 29-27, allowed PSU to shoot ten percentage points above their season average (49.0 percent), and largely played uninspired basketball for most of the game. Instead, they remained positive.

“We got Luke Jackson back on his game, I was very pleased with that. We got Ian Crosswhite back on his game, and I was really, really pleased with that,” said Kent.

“A win is a win; we just have to look forwards to our next game,” said Jackson.

For PSU, while head coach Heath Schroyer isn’t into moral victories, he had to be happy with his team’s performance.

“I thought that if we played well, we executed our game plan, we would have a chance at the end,” said Schroyer. “I believe in the character of our kids. I was glad to see that they came out and gave the effort that I knew they capable of.”

“We just came up short.”

The Ducks agreed.

“They came after us, that’s for sure,” said Ridnour. “They were excited to play us – we didn’t match their energy and you have to give them a lot of credit.”

“We still have a long way to go to get where we need to be. But it’s a win so we gotta take that,” he said.

So while the Ducks got the much-needed victory, the performance wasn’t exactly what they had hoped for. And even though they were still back in the state, they weren’t back “home”. And it’s “home” where Kent felt the team needed to be.

“Overall, it’s just a matter of getting back in rhythm and getting in synch,” said Kent. “This team needs to get back to Mac Court.”

“I always say you need to get home to Grandma’s house, and Mac Court is our Grandma’s house.”

Part II: Civil War… Basketball Style

So, over the river and through the woods…

To Mac Court the Ducks go.

And on Saturday, Part One of the “Civil War” against Oregon State the Ducks participated.

As if the simple fact that getting back on track in the Pac-10 wasn’t enough, the Ducks would need to defeat their main rivals to do so. So with Luke Jackson sporting a new haircut, and the team donning their bright fluorescent yellow, alternate home uniforms, the Ducks looked to do that by turning to the “little things” that win ballgames – hustling, rebounding, and defending.

Feeling the energy from the packed full house of 9,087 at the Pit, the Ducks had a little too much juice early on, missing shots and committing turnovers before Luke Jackson connected on a trey at the 18:20 mark. But the Ducks were banging away on the glass – something they had not done against Portland State – as the inside guys tapped out rebounds for second, third, and even fourth chances. However, the Ducks couldn’t grab every offensive rebound, and the Beavers took advantage, building a 16-9 lead after seven minutes. Although shots for Oregon would finally start falling, the inside play of Ricci and the outside shots of fellow senior Jimmie Haywood allowed OSU to hang in there by slowing the game down and keeping the action in the halfcourt. At the half, the Ducks – who committed 11 turnovers – only led by three, 34-31.

Oregon’s energy in the first half may have been misplaced, but it was there. And in the second half, the Ducks would find their groove. Although the game remained tight through the first part of period, the pace of the game changed. Oregon was able to get back to their trademark running style, and they brought the Beavers with them into it. And for the second game in a row, it was a Luke that lifted the Ducks in the second half. Against Portland State, it was Luke Jackson who got hot to lead the Ducks to victory. Against OSU – it was Luke Ridnour’s turn. As the Ducks ran, Ridnour got hot off of mid-range jumpers and drives, scoring 19 second-half points as the Ducks slowly pulled away from the Beavers. A three-pointer by Ridnour at the 4:40 mark gave the Ducks a 65-54 lead. Ricci and freshman point guard Lamar Hurd did their best to try and keep OSU close, but the Beavers could get no closer than nine the rest of the way as Oregon won going away, 79-68.

Ridnour finished with 28 points and 11 assists (both career highs), while Jackson tossed in 19 and Robert Johnson contributed 12. The Ducks got huge play off the bench from Andre Joseph with eight points and 10 rebounds, and Ian Crosswhite scored 10. The Beavers were led by Philip Ricci’s double-double of 24 points and 11 rebounds. Lamar Hurd scored 13.

Ernie Kent credited the home cooking for the performance.

“We just allowed them to get back home, get out and have fun, get out run and defend, and it’s just amazing to me when we can get back into that rhythm, how well we start to defend, block out and rebound, shoot the ball and make plays. I think a lot of that has to do with just coming back here to Mac Court and try to find ourselves right now, so it was a great effort on our part.”

“It was just important that we played with energy and got back to running and defending and playing the type of basketball that we are capable of playing,” he said.

While the Ducks didn’t shoot particularly well (only 40.9 percent) they really hit the glass, out-rebounding the Beavers 42-30, and grabbing 17 offensive rebounds. Oregon also hit 19-of-22 free throws, including a perfect 12-of-12 in the second half. After 11 first half miscues, they cut their turnovers to two in the second stanza.

It was an inspired effort on the part of the Ducks, especially compared to the PSU game.

“People kind of labeled us as not playing hard,” said Jackson. “That’s not our team. We don’t want to be labeled as not being competitive, and we came out and tried to be the aggressor on both ends.”

But effort aside, it was Luke’s buddy Luke that was the difference.

“Ridnour controlled the game, and had us on our heels,” said OSU head coach Jay John. “He probably had his hands involved in just about every basket the last seven to eight minutes of the ballgame. He seemed like he was either feeding, shooting, or making free throws.”

For OSU, the Beavers dropped to 0-5 in Pac-10 play. But John remains positive.

“I don’t think there’s any question we’ve had the toughest five games in the Pac-10, the toughest first few weeks than anybody else,” said John. “But we’re improving.”

The Ducks improved their Pac-10 mark to 2-3 with the win. They used the week to return home, rest, re-energize, revitalize – and get well.

But what about regaining national respect? Don’t worry about it, says Ernie Kent.

“People want to forget about us, say the Ducks are out of it – that’s OK with us right now,” said Kent. “The best thing for us right now is if we can duck under everyone’s radar, regroup, and come back at it again.”

Both Oregon and Oregon State stay at home this week, facing the two Washington schools.

     

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