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Qualification or elimination will be decided this weekend.

Byline: Bob Clark The Register-Guard

Two weeks after playing for second place in the Pac-10, Oregon will try to avoid falling into an eighth-place tie in the league standings that could keep the Ducks from even participating in the Pac-10 tournament.

That's what four consecutive losses in a tightly bunched conference will do, as it has for Oregon.

`It's been a crazy league for everybody with the exception of Stanford,' UO coach Ernie Kent said Sunday. `We've all gone through our ups and downs and now we've had our down. We've just been beat up more than anybody else.'

The most-missed Duck with an injury was freshman point guard Aaron Brooks, who made his first starts over the weekend since the opening two games of the conference schedule. In the losses to Cal and Stanford, Brooks scored 33 points by shooting 11-of-20 from the field, including 8-of-13 on three-pointers, and had seven assists with five turnovers in a total of 68 minutes.

`Aaron is playing well, and it's amazing to see him shoot that well since it was the wrist on his (right) shooting hand that he broke,' Kent said. `The key now is to get everybody playing well at the same time.'

What's at stake for the Ducks in these two games at McArthur Court is a finish anywhere from fourth to eighth in the Pac-10, plus a winning season. They could end up playing any one of four teams - Stanford, Washington, Arizona or California - in the conference tournament quarterfinals, or not be playing past Saturday's final regular-season game.

`If we win (twice) this weekend, we'll probably play Cal ... we know that, so the focus comes back to winning this weekend,' Kent said. `That gets you to the (Pac-10) tournament, it gives you momentum going into the tournament and it ends the regular season on a positive.'

The Ducks are assured of reaching the conference tournament, set for March 11-13 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, if they win one of their remaining games, either Thursday night against USC or Saturday afternoon against UCLA. Oregon could even make it without another win, provided either Oregon State or Washington State loses at least once this week.

`It's important to have a good week of practice and then play well,' Kent said.

`This is our seniors' last home game, so we want to send them off well and get some momentum for (the Pac-10 tournament).

`I just hope we can get through this weekend playing well because I still feel we're one of teams that can get hot and win the (Pac-10) tournament.'

The Ducks (12-11 overall, 7-9 in the Pac-10) could still gain a tie for fourth place, with a sweep in the final weekend while California loses twice, with the Bears playing at Washington and Washington State. That would set up a pairing of Oregon and Cal in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, though Stanford would be looming in the semifinals for the victor.

There is, however, this even less-appealing possibility: drop to the conference's eighth seed and play the Cardinal in the tournament opener.

If the Ducks lose both of their games this week they might not even reach the Pac-10 tournament. That would happen if Oregon State won twice to tie the Ducks for the eighth and final berth in the Pac-10, and Arizona finished alone in second in the Pac-10, which would occur if the Wildcats (10-7) win their finale over Arizona State and Washington (10-6) is swept at home by the Bay Area teams.

The first tiebreaker for Pac-10 placing is head-to-head results, and the Ducks split with OSU. The next tiebreaker is results against the highest-seeded team, so it would come down to which team is second, Washington or Arizona. The Ducks have a split with the Huskies while OSU has a split with the Wildcats. (In potentially settling a deadlock for the second seed, Washington holds the tiebreaker over Arizona with a sweep of that series.)

In a possible three-way tie for seventh among the Ducks, Beavers and Washington State, the Cougars would be eliminated because they were swept by both Oregon and OSU.

Much of the equation could be settled Thursday night. In addition to Oregon's 5:30 p.m. game at Mac Court against USC, the Beavers (5-11) play host to UCLA, Cal (9-7) meets the Huskies in Seattle and unbeaten Stanford is at WSU (6-10).

The simplest scenario in all this would be an Oregon triumph over the Trojans, and then the Ducks are in the Pac-10 tournament. Oregon opened Pac-10 play with a win over USC, but probably hasn't played that well since that night.

`It was definitely our best game of the season,' Kent said.

`You thought, `here we go' after that. We had everybody healthy and we looked terrific in that game, but that was then and this is now, and we've got to make sure we're ready to play.

`We'll talk about looking back at that game, and that now we need to get going again. That was the starting point for where we went to and (the rematch) can be a starting point for where we're going to.'

CAPTION(S):

Ernie Kent hopes Oregon can repeat its earlier performance against USC.
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Title Annotation:Sports; Oregon's Pac-10 tournament hopes are still on the line
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 1, 2004
Words:879
Previous Article:BACKPACK.
Next Article:Thurston ready for playoff game.



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