With the Cougars all set to take on Oregon for the third time tomorrow, I racked my brain in an effort to try and come up with some kind of new and unique angle. I couldn't. So I did what any good journalist would do -- pass the buck to someone else!
That somebody else is dviera over at Addicted to Quack, who checks in with his answers to CougCenter's five burning questions regarding the Ducks and tomorrow's game.
CougCenter: Oregon has won a couple of games since we last saw you; what's this team doing differently that allowed it to avoid the dreaded 0-18?
Addicted to Quack: I think there are a few important differences between the team coming down the stretch and what we saw at the beginning of the Pac-10 season.
First and foremost, our defensive intensity is much improved. We are getting some more steals and doing a better job of rebounding and limiting shots. We still have some defensive breakdowns, but we are doing a lot better at lasting the full shot clock. In our meetings with Washington State, we had an awful time playing out the duration of the shot clock. We would do great for 20, 25, even 30 seconds but slack off one time and get burned.
The other difference is that we are playing more of a team style of basketball. The chemistry is a lot better than it was in our previous meetings. It isn't reflective in our percentages but we're doing a lot better on layups and knocking down open shots. When we've had success, we've limited our turnovers and played in a "controlled frenzy".
CougCenter: Did Ernie Kent do enough down the stretch to get his critics off his back?
ATQ: Ernie will NEVER do enough to get the critics off his back. Oregon could win the national championship and people would still want him fired. I think winning a couple of games eased the pressure on our athletic director more than anything else. Having an 0-18 season with a new arena coming down the pipe was going to cause Pat Kilkenny to have some serious discussions with Ernie and crew in the off-season. Now that some sort of hope and progress has been shown, those conversations become a little easier.
Most of the anti-Ernie sentiment revolves around his personality and his pattern of having 1-2 good seasons intermixed with 1-2 really bad seasons. Winning those two games won't do anything to counter those elements. Uncle Pennybags at ATQ has some really good insights to this.
CougCenter: Give us Oregon's game plan for Wednesday. We promise we won't tell Tony.
ATQ: Oregon's game is all about tempo. They need to start off quick to get in a good flow for the rest of the game. Oregon has been frustrated by Washington State's tempo in their previous meetings and I expect Ernie will be looking for high defensive pressure, especially early on in the game. Taylor Rochestie is going to get his points but expect Oregon to do some trapping to get the ball out of his hands. They may even give up some easy buckets on the trap just to get the game tempo flowing more in a style that Oregon likes.
On the offensive side of the ball, perimeter shooting should be a key to how well the Ducks can execute. Oregon should be looking outside first, inside later in this game.
CougCenter: Who is the one guy WSU really has to watch out for in this game?
ATQ: Everyone knows about TP (Tajuan Porter). The guys you really have to look out for are Matt Humphrey and Drew Wiley. Drew is coming off a career night, scoring 18 points against UCLA and is starting to find that confidence from the outside. Humphrey has become "Mr. Hustle" on the defensive side of the ball, causing turnovers and serving to increase the tempo for the Ducks when they need it most. Both Drew and Matt have a great stroke from beyond the arc. If they start hitting and getting steals, look out.
CougCenter: How optimistic are Duck fans that this thing really will get turned around next year?
ATQ: During Ernie's tenure, that's typically how it goes. You are cruising along, doing pretty well, get to the tournament, then you fall off a cliff and have to rebuild. Even in all of the losses this year, there was potential and flashes of brilliance in each game. We had opportunities in every game this year, some we just didn't take advantage of.
Next year, the Pac-10 will be losing some key players to the draft and to graduation. Oregon loses two end of the bench players and that's it. Everyone else is coming back. Another year of maturity combined with the losses in the Pac-10 should help right the ship.
Oregon fans have been through this before. How dramatic the turnaround will be? No one can say, but honestly ... it can't get much worse.