Perfect home finale for UO.
ON THE WELL-WORN basketball that coach Ernie Kent clutched in his hands late Saturday evening, a Spalding TF-1000, there was a small "X" for every game played this season at McArthur Court, every one of them a victory.
Perfection has seldom been recorded so simply and yet so eloquently than by a string of X's across the middle of a basketball.
A row of X's, 16 for the regular season wins (and two more for the exhibition games).
A row of X's, for that team that went a record 16-0 in Mac Court for only the second time in school history, and for the first time since 1938.
A row of X's, and behind each mark on the gameball was the story of the Oregon season, because this was the ball used when the Ducks stunned Arizona in December, and finally defeated Stanford in January, and blew out UCLA and battled past Southern California and finally closed out the home season Saturday night, 90-84 over stubborn, dangerous Washington.
You wondered how many times during the season Frederick Jones dunked that basketball, or Luke Ridnour passed it for an assist, or Luke Jackson drove with it, or Robert Johnson rebounded it.
For the Ducks, certainly, that basketball never rotated as sweetly as when it left Jones' hand for two vital three-point baskets late in Saturday night's game, courageous shots that a senior leader takes when it is the last game he'll ever play on his home floor.
"I might try to take it home with me," Jones said of that basketball.
What Jones and his teammates can take home is a season of perfection in the second-oldest on-campus arena in Division I college basketball.
"That's special for us," he said. "Can't nobody take that from us now."
The magnitude of the accomplishment is perhaps best understood this way:
For all the accolodades that Mac Court gets as one of the toughest places in the nation for visiting teams to play, for all the passion of the Oregon fans, for all the noise and bouncing energy of the Pit Crew - augmented Saturday night, in his own farewell appearance, by Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington, disguised with a fake beard, a wig and a green-and-yellow cowboy hat - only three other Oregon teams have ever won them all at home.
In 1912 and 1926, before they played in Mac Court, the Ducks were 7-0 and 6-0, and in '38 they were 16-0, in the season they were first dubbed the "Tall Firs," before they won the NCAA title a season later.
Ronnie Lee and the Kamikaze Kids never won them all at home. Blair Rasmussen, Anthony Taylor, Terrell Brandon never won them all at home. Neither did Stan Love, Jim Barnett or Jim Loscutoff.
Coach Dick Harter, Kent's mentor, couldn't win them all at home, and Kent now joins a couple of storied names in Oregon history - Bill Hayward, the famed track coach who was the basketball coach in 1912, and Hall of Fame coach Howard Hobson, the coach of the Tall Firs, perfect at home in '38.
"It hasn't even sunk in," said Kent, who after the game took the public-address microphone to thank the Oregon fans and praise his special team.
"It's just incredible what this team has done. Not only 16-0, but how they've done it. They're 16-0 leading the Pac-10, first or second the entire way. They're 16-0 leading the Pac-10 offensively in eight or nine different categories the entire year. They're 16-0 with guys who have just bought into a system. So just the way they have done it is the most impressive thing to me because it means a lot personally to get to 16-0, but it means more to see a group of guys who have bonded together and come together as a team, and for this community to see that.
"They've seen that with football, and now they have an opportunity to see it up close with basketball, and I just think it's an incredible run by this team. And may not even sink in with me until down the road when you look back and say, `Wow, no one has done this since 1937-38.' That's a long time."
In the stands Saturday evening, in his usual seat, was John Dick, a member of the Tall Firs' national title team, a sophomore on the '38 undefeated home team, and he's been thrilled with this group - with its push-the-pace aggressiveness on offense and its unselfishness and teamwork. A team unity that, when the seniors were being introduced prior to the game, with their parents and family members, seemed more genuine than most.
With 33 points, Jones was both spectacular enough to lead SportsCenter and clutch enough to be the difference in his final home game; "Freddie is better," the students chanted at UW star Doug Wrenn, impressive himself. The Ducks got a boost off the bench from another senior, Anthony Lever, 3-of-3 on three-pointers in this historic game and 7-of-7 over the weekend.
You'd think that the Ducks can build upon this undefeated home season; that it will be part of their identity next season as they seek to fill what now seems a gaping void that will be left by the graduating Frederick Jones. But that home streak could be only one part of the legacy of this team.
Because now the Ducks seek to accomplish something else that's been rare in school history - to go to Los Angeles this coming week with the league lead and bring back what would be only Oregon's fourth league title ever, and its first Pac-10 Conference title. In the 125th year of the University of Oregon, in which the football team won the league title and finished No. 2 in the nation, history is being made as well as celebrated, and the Oregon basketball team isn't finished writing its own chapter.
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|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Feb 24, 2002|
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