Oregon Rises Out of Obscurity & Into the Spotlight

March 13, 2002

AP Sports Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Bring on the high expectations and the bigarenas - and add a bunch of ever-present television cameras.

After years of obscurity and mediocrity, Oregon wants to make the most ofits time in the national spotlight.

A year ago, coach Ernie Kent's team stayed home during postseason play. Thisweek, the Ducks are the highest-seeded team in Sacramento's NCAAsubregional, which features few high-profile teams but four intriguingmatchups at Arco Arena.

'When you get a chance like this, you've got to love it,' said FrederickJones, the Ducks' all-conference scoring leader.

A No. 2 seeding in the Midwest and the favorite's role are still unfamiliarand thrilling for the Ducks (23-8), who exceeded all expectations whilewinning the school's first Pac-10 Conference title in 63 years. As a reward,the Ducks landed a higher-than-expected seeding and the closest possiblefirst-round destination.

'It's finally starting to set in for us,' guard Luke Jackson said. 'To comedown here and play in a big arena and have all these people cheering for usis a big deal.'

In fact, Oregon agreed to have its journey through the NCAA tournamentchronicled by ESPN, which has had its cameras in the Ducks' faces duringevery part of their preparations for Thursday's game against Montana(16-14).

While some coaches might be aggravated by the intrusion - and worried aboutits effect on their players - Kent eagerly accepted the opportunity toshowcase his budding program to basketball fans and potential recruitsacross the nation.

'That type of visibility for a program - there's no way we can pass thatup,' Kent said. 'It's a huge plus for our program.'

No. 7-seeded Wake Forest (20-12) opens the day against Pepperdine (22-8),followed by Oregon and Montana. Later, fourth-seeded Southern California(22-9) takes on UNC Wilmington (22-9) and No. 5-seeded Indiana (20-11) facesUtah (21-8).

Oregon hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 1960, but the Ducks areheavy favorites against the Grizzlies, who needed an upset run through theBig Sky Conference tournament to earn a berth.

Two years ago, the Ducks' first NCAA berth under Kent sent them all the wayto Buffalo, where they were bounced by Seton Hall in an early morning game.This time, however, they'll be among friends.

The Arco Arena crowd is sure to be packed with Oregon fans. Thousands ofDucks alumni live in Northern California - so many that they sometimesjokingly refer to their alma mater as the University of California atEugene.

Of course, the exposure from the ESPN documentary won't amount to much ifthe Ducks lose in the first round - but they say they're still too close totheir less-successful days for overconfidence.

They spent the week preparing only for Montana and Dan Trammel, a SanFrancisco Bay area native who was the conference tournament's MVP. Oregonpracticed at home this week before a short bus ride to Portland - and aneven shorter plane ride to Sacramento.

'We've all watched the tournament for years, and we've seen the upsets,'Jones said. 'We don't want to be a part of it.'

Oregon and Southern California play crowd-pleasing, up-tempo styles thatmarkedly contrast with Indiana and Utah.

The Runnin' Utes barely sneaked into the tournament with a No. 12 seeding,while Indiana got a cross-country trip as a reward for a strong Big 10season.

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