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Men's Hoops: Oregon poses big challenge

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Ivan Radenovic (right) gets an elbow from Oregon's Ian Crosswhite during the first half of Arizona game against Oregon at McArthur Court in Eugene, Ore., January 20.
By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 17, 2005
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The Oregon Ducks are not imposing physically. They are far from giants.

But what they do have is a lot of speed and quickness, and a style they hope will sting No. 10 Arizona.

After kicking 7-foot junior forward Ian Crosswhite off the team and sending 7-foot junior center Matt Short to the bench, Oregon (12-9, 4-8 Pacific 10 Conference) has gone to a lineup with only one player standing over 6-foot-9.

Radical changes were apparently needed for a team that had lost six straight games before defeating Washington State in their last outing.

Arizona (21-4, 11-2) is not taking the Ducks lightly, though, partly because Oregon showed a lot of grit in the teams' last meeting, cutting a 15-point deficit to two before succumbing to the Wildcats 66-74 on Jan 20.

Arizona head coach Lute Olson sees the lineup changes as both a benefit and a disadvantage to Arizona.

"It makes it more difficult for us," Olson said. "But on the other hand, they're going to have to deal with our size."

Oregon's four-guard starting lineup features sophomores Aaron Brooks and Jordan Kent, as well as freshmen Bryce Taylor and Malik Hairston, to go along with a third freshman, Marty Leunen, playing the post.

The 6-foot-5 Kent, son of Ducks head coach Ernie Kent, is playing at power forward, but the Ducks hide their size deficiency well.

Jordan Kent has played on the perimeter offensively, where he has pitched in 25 points in his last two games, including a 19-point, 16-rebound performance against Washington.

"He attacks the glass really well," Olson said. "He's a slasher, he can face up and shoot it, so that will be a challenge for Ivan (Radenovic)."

The sophomore forward Radenovic, who defended UCLA guard Dijon Thompson in Arizona's last game, will once again have to guard a smaller player. To compensate, the Wildcats hope to rely on a team effort defensively.

"I don't think we're going to have a problem with that, we just need to play good defense," Radenovic said.

On defense, the Ducks protect their four guards by playing a 2-3 zone, which helps when matching up against bigger teams, Olson said.

Leunen, the Ducks' lone post presence, has shown signs of stardom in his freshman year, even drawing comparisons to former Oregon star Luke Jackson from Olson.

"I think he's somebody with the potential to be the next Luke Jackson," Olson said. "He handles the ball, shoots the ball well (and) has a really good feel for the game."

Leunen is averaging 11.5 and 7.5 rebounds in his last two games, and has reached double figures three times in rebounding this year despite coming off the bench for the majority of the season.

While Leunen and Kent have been key contributors, Brooks makes the Ducks go with his speed and playmaking ability.

"Aaron is one of the quickest players in the nation," junior forward Hassan Adams said. "You can't really give him too much because he will go around. You have to really contain him."

Brooks leads the team in scoring at 15 points per game, and at just 160 pounds, he finds creative ways to put the ball in the hole.

"He pretty much has the green to do anything out there," said sophomore guard Mustafa Shakur, who will likely see at least some time guarding Brooks. "He can stop and pull up, he can hesitate and go to the basket. You have to be constantly ready for anything he's going to do because he's their number one option."

Because of the lack of size, and Brooks' ability to push the ball, Oregon will try to get out in transition as much as they can.

"They really get out and run the ball," Olson said. "One of our first challenges is to handle their fast break."

If the Wildcats do stop the fast break, the Ducks will look to spread the court and create opportunities by driving the lane or kicking it out to shooters like Taylor, who's shooting 44 percent from the field.

"Bryce can shoot with the best, he's going to be a good player," Adams said.

Although Oregon has adjusted to playing small ball, their youth may show without Crosswhite's experience.

"That leadership that they had, they're going to be lacking that in crucial games, in crucial situations," Adams said.

Crosswhite's absence doesn't make Channing Frye think differently of Oregon, though.

"Oregon's so deep, I don't really think it's going to affect them like a lot of people think it is," Frye said.

Arizona will host Oregon State Sunday at 2:30 p.m. The Beavers upset Washington last Sunday to give the Wildcats first place in the Pac-10.

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