One might think Jerry Green would have the common courtesy to let Oregon’s long-suffering football program bask in the afterglow of the school’s first Rose Bowl appearance in 37 years.
But less than eight days after UO’s dreamlike football season culminated in Pasadena, Calif., with a noble 38-20 loss to No. 2-ranked Penn State, Green has the Ducks basketball team trying to shove its way into the national limelight.
And the third-year coach isn’t about to downplay the importance of the publicity his team’s surprising 10-1 start has generated.
“The University of Oregon is a program that, unlike Kansas or the other high-profile programs, needs as much publicity as we can get,” Green said Tuesday after learning his Ducks had squeezed into the national college basketball rankings for the first time since 1977.
“We need help convincing people that we are a bona fide place to come and play basketball. The Rose Bowl helps, and this helps also.”
Oregon, which will take a seven-game winning streak into Saturday’s showdown against intrastate rival Oregon State in Corvallis, grabbed the No. 25 spot in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 after opening its Pacific-10 Conference season last week with home victories over UCLA and Southern California.
The 10-1 start is the Ducks’ best in 20 years, and their 2-0 Pac-10 record has them tied with Washington State for the league lead.
When Green arrived in Eugene, he inherited a 6-21 team that had twice been beaten by 50 or more points.
“One of the things when you take over a program like this, where the kids have been thumped and thumped, not only do you have to work with making the bodies better through recruiting and so forth, but you have to work with their minds also,” Green said.
UO went 10-20 in Green’s first season and 10-17 last year. But the Ducks closed the 1993-94 season with an upset of UCLA and have returned everyone from that team.
This year, the Ducks have been led by senior guard Orlando Williams, who is averaging 17.7 points per game, and sophomore point guard Kenya Wilkins, who is averaging 5.9 assists.
But their biggest weapon might be McArthur Court, where they have played eight of their first 11 games in front of traditionally rowdy crowds.
Oregon, 8-0 at Mac Court, packed the building with more than 10,000 fans for both the UCLA and USC games after going more than five years without a home sellout.
“I’ve been in a lot of (gyms), and if there’s a better homecourt advantage than this building, I have yet to see it,” Green said. If there is any reason to be skeptical about Oregon’s fast start, it probably centers around the fact that the Ducks have yet to prove they can win on the road.Eight of their wins came at Mac Court and two others - over George Washington and Notre Dame - came at the Far West Classic, which was staged in Portland.Oregon’s only true road test came back on Dec. 13 when it lost 88-83 at Santa Clara. And now the Ducks must play their next three games, and five of their next seven, on the road.
Enemy close at hand
Arizona, picked No. 1 in the nation by at least one preseason publication, has met the enemy.
And Damon Stoudamire, the Wildcats’ senior point guard, is convinced that enemy is them.
“Sometimes I think our opponent is ourselves,” Stoudamire said this week about the Cats, who dropped a 53-52 decision at Arizona State last Thursday. “We just can’t worry about who we’re playing against. If we can just go out and do the things we can do, we can be a dominating team.”
So far this season, the ninth-ranked Wildcats (0-1 in the Pac-10 and 10-3 overall) have been anything but. And Stoudamire and his teammates realize things will have to change if they hope to make any inroads to another Pac-10 title this weekend, when they face California and Stanford on the road.
But teammate Ray Owes added, “When you lose, it sets you back. There’s a sense of urgency, that you have to get back in the race.”The results have not been as good as we want them to be, but we’re going to get better and keep working at it.”
Morale not so Husky
Washington’s non-conference upset of perennial Big Ten Conference power Michigan earlier this season raised the expectations of Huskies fans and players alike.
And those expectations apparently have led to minor outbreaks of dissension among coach Bob Bender’s players following last week’s back-to-back home losses to Pac-10 rivals Stanford and California.
“I’d be lying if I said the guys aren’t frustrated and picking on each other,” senior forward Scott Didrickson told reporters following Saturday’s 84-76 loss to Cal. “It’s bound to be frustrating because we all know we can play better than this, individually and as a team.”
Bender, who is in his second season at UW, said he welcomed Sunday’s day off from practice.
“We need a day off,” he said after the Cal loss, which was Washington’s third in six days. “We need to all get away from the game and think about what each of us has to do as individuals. They need to get away from basketball. They need to get away from each other.”
Arizona guard Reggie Geary, who suffered a sprained left ankle and bruised left knee in Saturday’s win at Rhode Island, is probable for Thursday’s game at Cal… . Pac-10 teams are 66-24 against non-league opponents and 12-2 against teams from the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten and Southeastern conferences… . UCLA, which entertains Washington and Washington State this week, is 58-2 against those two schools (29-0 vs. WSU and 29-2 vs. UW) in Pauley Pavilion… . USC’s Lorenzo Orr needs one more block to replace Rod Keller as the school’s career leader.
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