Undefeated Ducks can’t afford to look ahead
Take an underachieving, guard-heavy Pacific 10 Conference team, add a 5-foot-6 sparkplug and a 6-9 forward returning from an injury-marred season, and what do you get?
Hint: They’ve quacked the top 25 for the first time since the 2002-03 season after rolling off 13 consecutive victories to open the season.
The No. 16 Oregon Ducks are off to their best start in 69 years, and one of the only things standing in the way of a potential matchup of college basketball unbeatens Saturday against top-ranked UCLA is that other Pac-10 team from Los Angeles, which just happened to beat the Ducks last year in Eugene, Ore.
But USC Coach Tim Floyd said the Trojans’ 84-78 victory over Oregon last January won’t help them tonight when they meet at McArthur Court.
“Every year is different,” Floyd said. “We’re a different team and they’ve got different players.”
Start with the Ducks’ Tajuan Porter, the diminutive freshman guard who averaged 31 points in his first three college games. Then there’s junior forward Maarty Leunen, who’s leading the Pac-10 with 10.4 rebounds a game.
Leunen wasn’t much of a factor against the Trojans last season after spraining his ankle in early January. But he has emerged as a post player with three-point range who could find himself matched against USC sophomore forward Keith Wilkinson.
Oregon has six players averaging in double figures, though junior guard Malik Hairston (13.4 points per game) is questionable for tonight’s game after suffering tissue damage in his left heel Dec. 19 in practice.
Porter’s production has dipped since the middle of last month, when he suffered a sprained big toe on his left foot. The Ducks’ leading scorer at the time of the injury, Porter is now third (15.2 points), behind guards Bryce Taylor (16.8) and Aaron Brooks (16.5).
Floyd could face a delicate balancing act at point guard now that freshman Daniel Hackett has recovered from food poisoning and junior Gabe Pruitt has found his form since returning from academic ineligibility.
Pruitt looked lost in his first two games back while scoring a total of two points off the bench, but he played well during the Trojans’ first two conference games. He had 18 points and six assists against Washington and made a three-point shot that gave USC a one-point lead with nine seconds left against Washington State. As the Trojans’ starting point guard in both Pac-10 games, Pruitt had only four turnovers in 77 minutes.
Floyd said he would divvy up the minutes at the position “from game to game depending on how it’s going.” He declined to name a starter for tonight’s game.
at Oregon, 5:30
Site -- McArthur Court, Eugene, Ore.
Radio -- 710.
Records -- USC 11-4 overall, 1-1 Pacific 10 Conference; Oregon 13-0, 1-0.
Update -- USC junior swingman Nick Young is shooting 61.2% from the field over the last seven games. USC and Oregon split their series last season.