Oregon Mauls Montana, 81-62
March 14, 2002
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Now that Oregon has beaten a pesky opponent and abig batch of butterflies for its first NCAA tournament victory since 1960, theascendant Ducks think they can go anywhere.
Luke Ridnour and Luke Jackson scored 18 points apiece as second-seededOregon overcame a nervous start to beat Montana 81-62 on Thursday in theMidwest Regional.
Oregon, which didn't make the postseason last year, is shedding the weightof years of mediocrity with each victory in its resurgent season. RobertJohnson added 15 points and seven rebounds for the Ducks (24-8), who advancedto face seventh-seeded Wake Forest on Saturday.
'We had to calm these guys down a few times over the last couple of days,'Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. 'This team was really excited ... but hopefullythis was one to get the butterflies out, and we can come back strong.'
Though Oregon had a remarkable regular season with several gritty victories,the Ducks entered the tournament with no idea what to expect. Many of theDucks' key contributors - including junior-college transfer Johnson andsophomore stars Ridnour and Jackson - weren't around two seasons ago when theDucks made their only previous NCAA appearance under Kent.
The Pac-10 Conference champions weren't terribly impressive, with streakyshooting and spells of indifferent defense that had Kent shaking his head. Butthe Ducks pulled away from the 15th-seeded Grizzlies with two prolonged runs inthe second half.
'We were all just really excited, but that's to be expected,' Jacksonsaid. 'We might not have played as sharp as we'd like, but we played harddefensively, and we stayed alive.'
Frederick Jones, the Ducks' all-conference leading scorer, had 16 pointswhile struggling with foul trouble. Jones took just seven shots, but hepunctuated the Ducks' victory with a high-flying dunk with four seconds left.
Ryan Slider had 12 points for 15th-seeded Montana (16-15), which earned itsfirst NCAA trip since 1997 by unexpectedly winning the Big Sky Conferencetournament. Dan Trammel and Brent Cummings added 10 points apiece for theGrizzlies, who made 16 turnovers and shot less than 38 percent.
'What a classy, great basketball team that is,' Montana coach Dave Holstsaid of the Ducks. 'They can go far in this tournament ... but I think weshowed them some things they can work on for the next game.'
The Grizzlies' fans and pep band had a great time at Arco, taking particularpleasure in taunting Johnson for his poor free-throw shooting, but their teamsimply couldn't stay with the Ducks in a quest for the school's firsttournament victory since 1975.
Oregon's years of struggles are slowly being erased by Kent, a proud alumnuswho has led the Ducks to two tournament berths in three seasons. This winter,the Ducks claimed their first outright conference title since 1939 - the sameyear Oregon won the first NCAA tournament.
With Montana focusing on shutting down Oregon's standout perimeter game,Johnson - who does most of the Ducks' dirty work on defense and the boards -was their primary offensive target for much of the game.
'I knew I needed to play big,' Johnson said. '(The Montana fans) werefunny, but they weren't in my head. I was nervous in the first half, but Ishook it off and came out strong.'
Montana trailed by just one point late in the first half before Oregon madea 15-6 run. The Ducks' lead dropped to seven points early in the second half,but they pulled away consistently for the rest of the game.