— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor
An amazing men’s basketball game on Saturday. UCLA had Oregon dead in the water in the first half with a 37-24 lead. The Ducks couldn’t hit a shot into the Willamette River, while the Bruins’ big men dominated the paint.
But a funny thing happened after halftime. Oregon came out firing on all cylinders, while UCLA’s inside presence went from titanium to tissue. As a result, the Ducks were able to pull out a 75-68 victory at Matt Knight Arena.
Let’s be clear about something: This was a game Oregon would not have won last year or the year before. E.J. Singler, who led the Ducks with a career-high 26 points, considers this win a character check.
“We showed toughness and heart today,” said Singler. “Coming out and winning feels good, shows we have heart, and that means a lot.”
It means plenty for their place in the Pac-12 standings, too. The Ducks now have a 6-2 conference record, and are tied for first place with Cal. Still, there’s plenty of basketball to be played, and Oregon will have to be ready for every opponent.
They certainly won’t be taking Oregon State lightly when they come to town this coming Sunday. Sure, the Beavers haven’t lit up the conference this season, but they have won two in a row and have the talent to upset a lot of teams.
“They can beat anyone in the conference,” Singler explained. “Their stats don’t show how good they are playing. They are playing very tough.”
Meanwhile, the Oregon women’s basketball team might be getting it together as well. After getting thumped 92-73 at USC Thursday, the Ducks came out with a much better performance Saturday. Thanks to the 21 points from Jasmin Holliday, they stunned UCLA 82-63 and this could change the outlook for their season.
Had they lost this one, the perception would’ve been that another subpar season was on the way in the Willamette Valley. Instead, the Ducks now have an overall 11-9 record and are perhaps a few more wins away from some kind of postseason berth.
They still need to play with a tad more consistency, but it appears that Paul Westhead has this program on the right track. Good for him. His legendary status in the game of hoops aside, it is always a pleasure to talk to this man and I hope he can add to his illustrious resume while he’s in Eugene.
Of course, you can check out plenty more about the basketball scene this coming Wednesday when our weekly college hoops roundup comes out. It should become required reading for many weeks to come.
Moving onto the football soap opera, you might need to add another name to the departing list. First, LaMichael James declared for the NFL Draft. Then last week, Darron Thomas decided to also take his game to the next level. Now, rumor has it that Chip Kelly might be taking the head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
By the time you read this column, the deal could be done. If so, it’s hard to say why Chip exactly took the job at this time. Maybe he felt that, after three consecutive BCS Bowl appearances, that it was time for a new challenge that only the NFL could provide. (ED – According to ESPN, Chip Kelly has declined the Buccaneers offer of immense wealth and status.)
Whatever the rationale, a quick word or two for those now believing that the sky is falling. It’s important to remember that while Kelly did have unprecedented success at Oregon, the foundation for those accomplishments had been paved for many years (going back to Rich Brooks). Second, if Chip does leave, there are a lot of high-profile coaches that will want to take his place.
This is still a team loaded with talent and the fancy facilities are about to get that much fancier. I could see Chris Petersen from Boise State taking a phone call on this one. Heck, I could even see a wild card like Jon Gruden considering coming here.
The point is that whether Kelly stays or goes, the recent successes of Oregon football are not coming to an end. They are still very much in the beginning stages. Should be fun watching this whole thing play out, either way.
But since we are talking about the NFL, let’s shift the attention to this past weekend’s playoff action. In the NFC Championship, the New York Giants eeked out a 20-17 overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers. Why do I bring this up? Because this game increased my admiration for one Eli Manning.
The guy won a Super Bowl a few years ago, but people have dismissed him and claim he’ll never be as good of a quarterback as his brother Peyton. Yet, despite the odds, he helped quietly lead the Giants to three impressive playoff victories over the Falcons, Packers, and the Niners.
In the most recent case, he was repeatedly knocked onto the muddy turf but was able to get up and throw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns. Oh, and if the Giants win the big game against New England in a couple weeks, it would give him two Super Bowl rings to his big brother’s one. Should that happen, wouldn’t that make Eli the better quarterback of the two? I sure think it would.
Now for a quick word on something else you could be seeing this coming Friday. As I’ve stated many times, I’m ramping up the prep coverage in this sports section. If the logistics are worked out in the next couple of days (as I think they will), I’ll make a point of formally announcing what we’ll be bringing to the table for the remainder of the year in the weekly prep basketball roundup. Right now, all I can say is I’m excited about the potential this new component could have and I think you will be too.
Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.