sam finley

A Few Thoughts Before I Go…

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

De'Anthony Thomas will probably rewrite the Oregon football record books before he leaves Eugene. (Photo Credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Lets talk a little sports.

First off, the soap opera between the Oregon football program and the NCAA continues.  Just about two weeks ago, the NCAA came out with findings of recruiting violations between 2008 and 2011.

Undoubtedly, some of you are nervous about what that could mean for the Ducks in the near future.  Well, you never can tell until any penalties are actually levied, but I don’t think any severe harm is going to occur when it’s all said and done.

I’ve always maintained that what likely happened here is that there was stumbling into a grey area.  Do the rules need to be clarified so situations like this never happen again?  Absolutely.

But does Oregon deserve to have wins vacated as well as receive a two-year postseason suspension?  Probably not and they probably won’t.

If you’re still worried, let me ask you something: do you think Chip Kelly would’ve turned down the chance to coach in the NFL if he was going to be in a potential mess?  That’s what I thought.

No, the Ducks will be fine in the end, so you can turn your attention towards wondering how much De’Anthony Thomas will be in 2012. Considering how phenomenal he was last season, it will be interesting to see how many records he breaks in his college career.

Dana Altman and his Ducks could very well wind up in the NCAA Tournament this year. (Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

It’ll also be intriguing to find out how the Oregon men’s basketball team winds up in the postseason. They’ve played well enough, from my standpoint, to warrant getting into the NCAA Tournament.

I know some people will argue that the Pac-12 is a weak conference, and the Ducks didn’t measure up in top non-conference games against Vanderbilt, BYU, and Virginia.  But they weren’t the same team at the start of the year that they are now.

They didn’t have Devoe Joseph in the lineup when the opened at Vandy. It took awhile for the newcomers like Tony Woods and Olu Ashaolu to figure out how to play with Garrett Sim and E.J. Singler.

I’m willing to bet if they were to play these teams again, the Ducks would beat every one of them. (Well, maybe Virginia would be a reach, but not the other two).  Of course, if Oregon wins the Pac-12 Tournament, they’ll be guaranteed a spot in the big dance and we can end the speculating.  Can they do it? We’ll see, but I like their chances.

Jeremy Lin has been one of the top feel good stories so far in 2012. (Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Staying on Oregon hoops for a while longer, some people have argued that Dana Altman should already be considered one of the best coaches in the program’s history.  Now, what Altman has done so far (averaging just over 20 wins in the past two seasons) has certainly exceeded initial expectations.  By the same token, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

He still hasn’t gotten the Ducks into the big tourney yet (though he soon will). Nor has he taken Oregon to the Elite Eight a couple times as Ernie Kent did, or won the whole thing like Howard Hobson.

I’m not trying to demean Altman’s performance by any stretch of the imagination. He’s proven himself to be a solid coach, and I think he could very well go down as one of the greatest in Oregon history.  But like anything else, there are still some chapters in this story before we can provide an ending.

The same can be said for the Knicks’ sensation Jeremy Lin.  Sure, he’s given a lot of folks a reason to watch the NBA again.  With the way he’s been playing, it’s a wonder why New York even considered cutting him off the team.  Heck, what were the Golden State Warriors thinking by letting him go? (Scratch that thought.  I already know why: they’re the Warriors).

However, for people to start comparing Lin to Magic Johnson at this juncture is a little far-fetched. For one thing, Lin has to play at this high level for a full season before we can even start this discussion. Well, that and he needs to show he can do it in a playoff game or two as well.

Still, there’s no question that Lin has been one of the better feel-good stories of the year and you hope he can keep it going.  I’d certainly rather talk about him than LeBron or the despicable Oklahoma City Thunder. (Sorry, but as a long-time Sonics’ fan, I will never root for OKC).

On a closing note, this is my last column at EDN for the foreseeable future. I’m going to continue writing for various outlets while I attend to other business. I may very well end up writing a sports column for this organization again in the near future. Let’s be clear about something: I may be leaving, but I am not going away.

So until next time, I will definitely see you in the bleachers.

 

Ducks Could Be Playing For ‘Madness’…

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

E.J. Singler scored 23 points against WSU. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Could March Madness strike Eugene? After the Oregon men’s last home stand, that is a distinct possibility.  The Ducks destroyed Washington 82-57 on Thursday, and followed it up with a 78-69 victory over Washington State on Saturday.

A big reason for Oregon’s success this season has been the play of E.J. Singler, and that was especially true against the Cougars.  Singler led the Ducks with 23 points by taking advantage of virtually every opportunity he had with the ball in his hands.

“I got some open looks,” he said afterwards. “The team gave me some good passes and I took the shots.”

He took the shots and hit them. More importantly, Singler’s play got the crowd into the action.  Matt Knight Arena has sounded quiet at times this season, a far cry from the enthusiastic crowds at Mac Court. But maybe the way the Ducks are playing will change that, especially now that they’re one game out of first place in the Pac-12.

Dana Altman is happy with the position of his Ducks, but understands there's still a lot of work to do. (Photo Credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

That’s right, despite a couple tough losses in recent weeks (to Oregon State and Colorado), Oregon still has a shot to win the conference. The Ducks might even have to do that to assure themselves a trip to the NCAA Tournament, and they’ve got a couple hard road games in front of them before they can even think about this possibility.

They’ll face Cal on Thursday, and then visit Stanford on Sunday. Neither place has been historically kind to Oregon.  Still, if they can get a split on this trip, the Ducks will be in good shape going into their last three games of the regular season. Head coach Dana Altman is pleased to be in the postseason chase, despite all the work that remains.

“It’s fun to have it be February and still be in the hunt,” Altman explained. “But we still have a long ways to go to be the team in March that we want to be.”

Either way, it should be an interesting three weeks before the Pac-12 Tournament. What do I see happening?  Right now, your guess is as good as mine, but it’ll be fun to watch.

Moving on to another topic, baseball season is right around the corner. That brings up one of the most debated questions in sports: Should Pete Rose be allowed into the Hall of Fame?

There’s no question that Rose was an outstanding player during his long career.  His record of 4,256 hits will never get broken (at least in my lifetime). I also respect the hard-nosed hustle he provided every time he picked up a bat or ran the bases.

He bet on the game, however, and that’s been the long-time cardinal sin in the game of baseball.  That rule has been posted on every clubhouse wall for a reason.  It’s also why he’s serving a lifetime banishment from the sport.

Now, if he were to sincerely apologize for his actions (not that half-baked admission he made to sell a book nine years ago), there might be grounds to let him back into baseball. (As well as give him a shot in the Hall).  Until then, Pete knew what he was doing and is getting exactly what he deserves.

In other matters, someone recently asked me who my favorite NBA team is.  Well, that’s a tricky one.  I really don’t have a team to root for these days, though I do have one that I go against.

Sam Finley respects Kevin Durant, but has no love for his Thunder. (Photo Credit: Brett Deering/Getty Images)

You see, I grew up in the Seattle area and was an avid fan of the SuperSonics.  I remember going to games, and seeing guys like Jack Sikma, Gus Williams, Xavier McDaniel, Gary Payton, and Shawn Kemp.  They were always fun to watch, win or lose.

Unfortunately, some jerk named Clay Bennett (with an assist from the league) bought the team a few years ago and moved them to Oklahoma City. (I highly recommend watching the documentary “Sonicsgate” on the internet for more info on this outrage).  Thus, I openly want to see every team (including the Lakers) knock the stuffing out of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Understand, I have nothing against the players on that team. Kevin Durant is, without question, one of the top five players in the game right now. But I will never, ever, cheer for a squad that is playing in a town it has no business being in.

Maybe when my hometown gets a new NBA franchise (could happen as early as next year), I’ll cool my jets on this subject.  I doubt it, however.

The Sonics were a part of my childhood and they wore green and gold. What colors do the Thunder wear? Blue and some other shade that resembles something that needs to be flushed down the toilet. Yuck.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

 

College Basketball Roundup

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

Duck Men Get A Huge Victory, Women Take A Step Back

Garrett Sim scored the first eight points of Thursday's game. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The Oregon men’s basketball team needed a big win at home and they got it on Thursday night.  A few days after getting beaten in a heart breaker at Colorado, the Ducks took out their frustrations on conference-leading Washington 82-57.  It was a night when everything seem to click for Oregon at Matt Knight Arena.

“We just needed a game like that,” explained forward E.J. Singler. “After losing at Colorado, we knew needed to take the next two at home. We know how big they are, and we just wanted to come out and play with a lot of passion. I thought us playing with a lot of enthusiasm really sparked us.”

Dana Altman loved the home crowd's enthusiasm. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The biggest spark, without question, came from guard Garrett Sim.  He scored the first eight points of the game, and was one of three Ducks with 13 points.  Oregon’s ability to jump on the athletic Huskies early was crucial to the victory, as it forced UW to play chase for the remainder of the evening.  Moreover, it provided the home crowd of 9,035 a reason to make plenty of noise.

“We gave the crowd something to cheer about,” said head coach Dana Altman. “Garrett hitting those first shots really got the fans in the game. There was a lot of intensity in the building and that really helped us.”

The win catapulted the Ducks into a three-way tie for third in the Pac-12 conference, as well as place them a game behind Cal and Washington for first place.  Now the Ducks need a similar effort again on Saturday afternoon to stay in the race.  They’ll face Washington State, before heading on the road against Cal and Stanford next week.

Meanwhile, the Oregon women’s team came up just a little short in Seattle on Thursday night.  The Ducks rallied from a 15 point second-half deficit, but it wasn’t enough as Washington held on for a 72-69 victory.

There was one bright spot in the loss: Amanda Johnson had another sensational game.  Johnson put up 26 points, and it’s clear she’s recovered well from the thumb injury that sidelined her for a few weeks.

The loss snapped Oregon’s two game winning streak (over Utah and Colorado last week) and now have an overall record of 13-11 (5-7 in the Pac-12).  The Ducks will look to regroup against 10-14 Washington State in Pullman on Saturday.

OSU Men Fall, Beaver Women Keep Rising

Jared Cunningham scored 33 points on Thursday. (Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Jared Cunningham can’t do it by himself.  The Beavers’ point guard led his team with 33 points, but his team got flattened 83-73 against Washington State on Thursday night.  A shocking outcome for two reasons.  First of all, Oregon State was playing in Corvallis.  Secondly, it seemed like the Beavers were starting to play together and this effort was a setback.

Perhaps on a night when Cunningham put up great numbers, it is this single digit that doomed Oregon State:  Zero.  That’s the number of points the Oregon State bench scored in the first half. As a result, the Cougars were able to build a 15 point advantage and remained in control the rest of the way.

Now the Beavers find themselves with a 5-7 Pac-12 record (15-9 overall), and tied for eighth in the conference standings. If that wasn’t bad enough, Oregon State will be facing a very dangerous Washington squad on Saturday.  The Pac-12 leaders took one on the chin in Eugene on Thursday, and will no doubt bring their ‘A’ game to Gill Coliseum as a result. In other words, head coach Craig Robinson had better make the necessary adjustments or it could be a long day.

Craig Robinson and his Beavers will have their work cut out for them with UW. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Over on the women’s side, there’s plenty to smile about for OSU.  The Beavers won their fifth game in a row on Thursday night, defeating Washington State 51-39 in Pullman.  Just consider it one more impressive notch on this year’s resume for them.

Scott Rueck’s team now has an overall 16-7 record, and now finds themselves in third place in the Pac-12 standings.  The Beavers will visit Washington on Saturday, before a real measuring stick comes next week.  That’s when the always tough Bay Area schools (Cal and Stanford) visit Corvallis. Should be an interesting few games for this bunch.

Prep Hoops Roundup 2-09-2012

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— Alex Shoemaker, EDN Sports
Irish Come Up With A Big Victory Over SpartansSheldon guard Dillon Miller came up with a huge performance last Thursday. That was more than enough for the Irish, as they easily blew out the Marist Spartans 75-42 on the road. 

Miller finished the game with 23 points, and contributed in all facets of the game.At his vital point guard position, essentially deciding the tempo of the entire offense, Miller has been instrumental in the huge surge of the Irish this season.Head coach Ron Lampe is very happy with the play of his senior captain.“Miller has been great,” said Lampe after the game. “He does everything I ask and more. He’s a great team player and we’re lucky to have him.”

The game was close through a quarter and a half when senior guard Sean Bellotti came up with a big block that completely changed the momentum of the game. Bellotti, son of former Oregon head football coach Mike Bellotti, has been a great contributor coming off of the bench.

Marist went into the second quarter with a 19-16 lead, but a one-sided second and early third quarter gave the Irish a 54-33 lead. After that, Sheldon never looked back.“We went on a good run there,” said Lampe. “We started hitting our jumpers as well as making smart passes and moving the ball. We didn’t want to have a shootout, but just play our style of basketball.”The Irish did just that, playing an up-tempo offense, and have been effective with that approach lately.After starting the season 2-4, Sheldon has gone on a 14-1 run (currently an eight game win streak) and have won most of those in convincing fashion. The Irish took care of business in their other two games this past week, blowing out North Eugene on the road 80-60 on Saturday and a 73-38 victory over Springfield.

The 16-5 Irish have secured a spot in the 6A playoffs. They can now either choose to rest up or try and improve their seeding. Sheldon plays Grant on Friday and South Eugene on Tuesday.

For the Spartans, their 12-8 record has them in the 5A tournament, but not at a very high seed. With two games this week against Marshfield (Friday) and Willamette (Tuesday), Marist could make a serious push with two likely victories.

Around the Rest of the League:

Churchill Lancers:


Churchill bounced back from a disappointing loss to Marshfield and swept their next three games in blowout fashion (margin of 30 points per game).  They cruised to winsover Willamette, Thurston, and Marist. The 17-4 Lancers are playoff bound and can rest for the next two weeks before the playoffs.  Churchill ranks No. 3 in 5A, and will play North Eugene and Springfield this week.North Eugene Highlanders:

At 8-12, North Eugene is close to taking its last breath. The Highlanders went 1-2 this week with a 15-point loss at Springfield, a 20-point loss against Sheldon,  followed by an 8-point win over South Eugene.North plays at Churchill on Friday, and then will be at home against Marshfield on Tuesday. North needs a sweep this week to have any shot at keeping their slim playoff hopes alive.South Eugene Axemen:

This was another bad week for South as they lost all three of their games.  Their 3-18 record and weak strength of schedule has them ranked 38th out of 43 teams in the 6A league.The Axemen will face Springfield and Sheldon this week, and they would do well to win one more game this season for momentum going into the 2012-13 campaign.Willamette Wolverines:

The 8-13 Wolverines are in a similar position as North Eugene. Willamette ranks a disappointing 26th in the 5A rankings, due to their poor OWP (opponent winning percentage).After an 86-41 blowout loss to Churchill on Thursday, the Wolverines bounced back with a much needed win over Marshfield.  The Wolverines play at Thurston on Friday and at Marist on Tuesday. They need to win both for playoff hopes and overall pride.Prep Game Of The Week:EDN will be live-blogging again.  This time, we’ll be at Sheldon on Friday night, when the Irish face the visting Grant Generals.  The game is a potential playoff preview of sorts, so stop by the website around 7pm to catch all the action.

Ducks Can’t Look Back On Bad Call…

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

E.J. Singler shouldn't have been called for a foul this past Saturday. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Usually, I will not say that officiating was the reason for why a game was won or lost. It is true that some referees are a little better than others, but that shouldn’t decide matters as long as teams play as they’re supposed to play.

That wasn’t the case on Saturday night at Colorado, however.  The Oregon men’s basketball team had the chance for another road sweep in front of them.  They were tied 71-71 with mere seconds to go, and it looked like the matter would be settled in overtime.

Unfortunately for the Ducks, a rather bizzare whistle was blown and changed the scenario.  It appeared that E.J. Singler had cleanly blocked a shot by Colorado guard Nate Tomlinson. Instead, a foul was inexplicably called with one second remaining.

Tomlinson went to the line and hit one free throw and that was enough for the Buffaloes to edge Oregon 72-71.  Sure, that one play alone did not doom the Ducks in the end.  They missed some shots that could’ve been made, etc.

Still, in all my years watching basketball, the referee usually won’t make a call in the final seconds unless someone hits the ground or takes one in the face.  Anything less than that, an  official will let the guys play.

That’s what should have happened here, especially when the game is deciding where teams wind up in the Pac-12 Standings.  In all honesty, Colorado probably had the edge if the game had gone to OT.  Singler, Tony Woods, and Olu Ashaolu were all in foul trouble late and losing one of them would’ve seriously hurt their chances of winning.

That’s not the point here. The issue is that the game was decided on a dubious whistle. It’s the type of move that cheapens the outcome of events and makes fans wonder if the sport is on the up and up.

Eli Manning deserves to be recognized as one of the game's best quarterbacks. (Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

I’m not saying that college basketball is headed the way of the WWE over this matter. (Far from it).  But it’s something that the Pac-12 needs to make sure doesn’t happen again.  No matter who you wanted to see win over the weekend, you have to admit that it is never a good thing when something like this occurs.

Regardless, the Ducks can’t look back on this bad call for too long.  With an overall 16-7 record (7-4 in Pac-12 play), this team still has a shot at winning the conference.  Failing that, they can also finish as one of the top four in the standings (guaranteeing them a first round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament).

That said, it won’t be any easy task at hand this week. Oregon has been inconsistent at home, and they will need a sweep to stay in the hunt. Considering how well Washington (who they face on Thursday) has played as of late, that’s not exactly a get-well card.  Ditto for Washington State on Saturday, who can be dangerous at times.

By the same token, this is also where a good team can show what they’re made of. If the Ducks can perform well at Matt Knight Arena, then they just might begin setting up a legitimate argument for getting in the NCAA Tournament.  If they don’t, it could be a struggle to make the NIT.  The next few weeks should be very interesting, indeed.

Now let’s talk a little bit about the Super Bowl before I wrap this one up. As predicted here last week, the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots 21-17.  Okay, so I was off on the score (I said the G-Men would take it 28-24), but it otherwise went as I thought it would go.

You’ve got to tip your hat to Eli Manning. For years, he’s been doubted and has lived in the shadow of his brother Peyton.  At the end of the day, however, he’s won two Super Bowls and has been named the MVP in both of them.

Tom Brady is still one of the best quarterbacks ever despite Sunday's setback. (Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images)

Now, you can legitimately argue that his big bro (when healthy) is still a much better quarterback. But how can you not say that Eli is now one of the best signal callers in the NFL today?  If this latest win doesn’t give him that deserved recognition in your eyes, I don’t know what will.

Over on the Patriots’ side, I’ve heard some post-game murmurs that this loss has ‘diminished’ Tom Brady’s legacy as one of the best quarterbacks of all-time.  Diminished?  How?  The guy has started in five Super Bowls and has won three of them.

Furthermore, saying that this setback ruins his overall body of work implies that Brady won’t ever play in another one of these games again.  For the record, I see him getting back to the Super Bowl at least one more time.  If he wins that one, it’ll mean taking four out of six tries.

Even if he doesn’t, Brady has still established himself as one of the top ten quarterbacks of all time. ‘Nuff said.

Oh, not quite.  Someone asked me who I believe are the top five quartebacks I’ve ever seen play.  Well, here’s my list:  5) Tom Brady. 4) Dan Marino. 3) Dan Fouts. 2) Joe Montana. 1) John Elway.

I know that list won’t make a lot of folks happy, and I’ll clarify my rankings on of these days. Unfortunately, I’ve run out of time and word space.

So until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

College Hoops Roundup 2-2-2012

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

Duck Men and Women Look To Get Back On Track

Tyrone Nared believes his Ducks have a better sense of urgency going into this road trip. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

It wasn’t the way the Ducks wanted to go out on the road.  The Oregon men’s basketball team fell 76-71 against Oregon State on Sunday.  The defeat to their state rivals snapped the Ducks’ four game winning streak as well as knocked them out of a tie for first place in the Pac-12.  But forward Tyrone Nared claims they’re not thinking about that at the moment.

“Our main focus is to bounce back from a terrible loss,” said Nared. “We feel like we beat ourselves with 23 turnovers. We were at home, and we didn’t take advantage of it. So we’re going to be very focused against Utah.”

Without question, sloppy ball-handling was a big reason why the Ducks fell to the Beavers. The fact that they couldn’t throw the ball into the Willamette River for a spell didn’t help, either.  Oregon only shot around 38 percent for the game, and head coach Dana Altman was not pleased with the lackluster output on offense.

Dana Altman stressed that his team has been better on the road than at home as of late. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

“Our execution was not good offensively,” Altman stated. “That’s my fault. We didn’t have guys in the right spots, and I’m very disappointed.  A lot of that goes to Oregon State. Their athleticism put us on our heels, and we just didn’t execute.”

Still, the Ducks have a 6-3 conference record and are only a game out of first place. By the same token, they know that every game is critical to their postseason hopes.  Thus, there has been a sense of urgency in practice this week.

“It’s been a little stressful,” Nared explained. “Anytime you have losses like our last one, we hurt our chances of making the tournament. That’s our goal right now, obviously.”

Fortunately for Oregon, they’ve been good on the road recently. They swept the Arizona schools on the last trip, and will need a similar performance this week. The Ducks will first visit Utah (15-6, 2-7 in Pac 12) on Thursday night, before getting what might be a tougher joust against Colorado (14-7, 6-3 in Pac-12) on Saturday.

“We’ve had some good road performances,” said Altman. “This team doesn’t seem to get overly-excited playing at home, and doesn’t seem to get too tight on the road. Going on the road has not hurt us in the past. We’ve got five more on the road, and they are all going to be tough.”

Meanwhile, the Oregon women are also coming off a tough loss to their state rivals.  The Ducks fell to the Beavers 67-60 last Saturday in Corvallis.

Oregon now has an overall record of 11-10 and is 3-6 in Pac-12 play.  Still, there is a ray of hope for the Ducks as they enter the second half of the conference season.  After missing 11 games due to a hand injury, forward Amanda Johnson returned to the lineup over the weekend, and led the team in scoring with 16 points in the defeat.

Head coach Paul Westhead will need Johnson to remain healthy for Oregon to hold onto their currently slim postseason hopes.  They’ll be at home this week, hosting Utah on Thursday night and Colorado on Saturday afternoon.

Beavers Should Be Confident This Week

Craig Robinson should have a fired up bunch after three straight wins. (Photo Credit: Pool/Getty Images)

Craig Robinson’s crew got a big win on Sunday. The Beaver men upset the Oregon Ducks 76-71 at Matt Knight Arena, and it should provide a spark as they head into the second half of conference play.

Oregon State is now 14-7 on the season (4-5 in the Pac-12) and has put themselves in a realistic position for a possible postseason bid.  A big reason for the Beavers’ recent three game winning streak has been the play of their very athletic guards.  Jared Cunningham led the way with 27 points against Oregon, and Ahmad Starks was second with 15.

Ahmad Starks had 15 points against the Ducks. (Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

They’ll need a similar effort this week as they head out on the road.  The Beavers will not start the trip with an easy one on Thursday when they take on Colorado.  OSU will close out their road swing at Utah on Saturday.  Still, after a big win in Eugene, this is a team that should be brimming with confidence as they seem to be playing together at the right time.

The same can probably said about the Oregon State women’s team.  The Beavers defeated Oregon 67-60 at Gill Coliseum last Saturday, as they continue to play well above expectations.

Ali Gibson led the way once again this past weekend.  She scored a career-high 23 points against the Ducks with 15 coming from three-pointers.

Oregon State is now 13-7 on the season (4-5 in Pac-12 play) and hopes to keep up their winning ways with two home contests this week.  They’ll host Colorado on Thursday evening, and then play Colorado on Saturday.

 

Super Bowl Will Have ‘Ducky’ Feel To It…

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

Spencer Paysinger (pictured left) has 11 tackles for the Giants this year. (Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

We’ll get to the men’s Civil War basketball game in a minute.  In the meantime, you didn’t ask me for this piece of information, but whomever wins the Super Bowl on Sunday will result in a former Oregon player getting a ring.  That’s right, the big game in Indianapolis will have a ‘Ducky’ feel to it.

On the New England side, there is safety Patrick Chung.  One of the best defensive backs in Oregon history has performed admirably at the pro level.  He’s made a lot of big plays for the Patriots with an interception here or a special teams play there.

Patrick Chung has a knack for making plays for the Patriots. (Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images)

However, Spencer Paysinger has also quietly established himself with the New York Giants in his rookie season. The ex-Duck linebacker has 11 tackles this year, and should make a lot more before it’s all said and done.

Thus, with both teams having a U of O alum on their roster, I can neutralize that as a reason to take one side over the other.  So let me tell you how I see this coming out in objective fashion.

On paper, it looks like the Patriots will roll in this one. They remember how the Giants ruined their undefeated season in that Super Bowl a few years ago, and a lot of people will tell you it’s not smart to bet against Tom Brady.  Furthermore, the Giants snuck into the playoffs with  a 9-7 record.

Ahhh, that’s where it gets interesting. Sure, the Giants didn’t have the prettiest of regular seasons.  Nonetheless, they won when they had to and they seem to be playing their best football at the right time.

The matchup between Brady and Eli Manning is a compelling subplot to this story, too.  Brady has won three Super Bowls, and will undoubtedly go down as one of the five greatest quartebacks of all time.

Meanwhile, Eli Manning has lived in the shadow of his big brother Peyton for years.  People sometimes forget that he, like Peyton, also has a championship ring on his finger.  If he wins on Sunday, it’ll mean he’ll have two in his collection. (Trust me, big brother will trade in his records for that honor).

So how does this play out?  I see a tough battle and, having a lot of friends who are Patriots’ fans, it would be easy for me to say I’m rooting for a good game. Admittedly, my head is saying ‘New England’ while my heart is saying ‘New York.’

Jared Cunningham led OSU with 27 points. (Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

But I’ll go with the latter this time.  This one will go back and forth and history will repeat itself.  The Giants upset the Patriots once more 28-24. 

Now let’s talk about that Civil War game. These match ups have gotten more competitive in recent years, and the one at Matt Arena definitely went down to the wire. But who saw this coming?  Oregon State beating Oregon 76-71?  I certainly saw a tight affair, but thought the Ducks would take it.

A big reason for the Beavers’ upset was the 27 points from Jared Cunningham. He’s become their playmaker, and hit some crucial three-pointers down the stretch.

“It’s our rival school and it was a big game with a great crowd, ” said Cunningham afterwards. “We had a lot of Beaver fans out there.  I think we turned the corner with this win, especially with it being the Civil War game. It means a lot to Beaver nation.”

OSU may have turned a corner on their season, indeed. They’re now 4-5 in Pac-12 play (14-7 overall), and made a statement by beating their arch-enemies on their own floor. If they can perform like this the rest of the way, there might be a few more shockers before it’s all over.

Dana Altman said his team has work to do on the road. (Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

For Oregon, however, the feeling has to be very bittersweet. Yes they’re still very much in the Pac-12 race with a 6-3 conference record (15-6 overall).  But the Ducks didn’t play like a contender over the weekend.

Oregon sputtered around in the first half, and some of their mistakes finally came back to bite them in the second.  Devoe Joseph did his part with 26 points, but received little help. Still, he argued it wasn’t lack of scoring that did his team in.

“It was more about defense and turnovers than offense,” Joseph explained. “It is disappointing. Any time you play at home, you expect to win. But we weren’t aggressive. It’s what we didn’t do, not what they did.”

He’s right. The two things that have been the Ducks achilles’ heel bit them hard against OSU.  Their inconsistency on defense was apparent as Cunningham and Ahmad Starks (who had 15 points) lit up the scoreboard. And you’re not going to beat many teams when you turn the ball over 23 times.  It’s something that Oregon will have to minimize when they head out on road against Colorado and Utah this week to keep their postseason hopes on track.

“We can’t lose home games and be in the huddle,” said Oregon head coach Dana Altman. “We have some serious work on the road this upcoming week.”

Whatever happens, the situation in the Pac-12 just got a little more interesting.  How it all winds up is anyone’s guess.

Now, here’s a quick item before I wrap this up. Last Friday, EDN launched a live blog for what we think is the biggest game in prep basketball.  We’ll be doing it again this coming Thursday night when Sheldon visits Marist.  Check out the sports section about 7pm that evening, and see how this game between two of the state’s best teams is covered.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

 

College Hoops Roundup 1-28-2012

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

It’s Civil War weekend. Here’s what’s at stake for the Ducks and Beavers.

Oregon Men Hoping To Stay Hot, Women May Have Found Momentum

Garrett Sim was a Beaver fan. (Photo Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Oregon men’s basketball team has been on a roll as of late. Last Thursday, they dispatched USC 65-62. Two days later, they followed that up with a wild 75-68 win over UCLA. Now winners of four consecutive games, the Ducks currently find themselves holding a share of first place in the Pac-12.  But while they’re hoping to stay on a hot streak, that won’t necessarily be the motivator for winning this Sunday against their state rival.

For some of the players, it really is a little more personal when it comes to Oregon State. Just ask senior guard Garrett Sim.  His father played football at OSU, and he grew up a Beaver fan. Sim might’ve played there himself, but they didn’t really look at him. Thus, why he’s currently a Duck.

Dana Altman believes the Beavers are a dangerous bunch. (Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

“I could’ve been interested in going there,” said Sim. “But they didn’t talk to me very much during the recruiting process. It is what it is, and that just makes me want to beat them even more.”

Taking the rivalry out of the equation, the Ducks find themselves playing a potentially dangerous squad. Sure, Oregon State is only 3-5 in conference play, but they’ve won two straight. Oregon head coach Dana Altman believes it’s going to require a solid effort to slow the Beavers down.

“They’re very talented,” Altman explained. “They’re long and athletic. The guards are quick. So it’s a very tough team to prepare for and we’re going to have to play very well.”

Meanwhile, the Oregon women’s basketball team is heading to Corvallis feeling relatively good about a lot of things. They get hammered 92-73 by USC last Thursday. However, the Ducks closed out their Southern California trip last Saturday with a shocking 82-63 win over UCLA.  So they go into this Saturday afternoon’s game with some potential momentum.

But the 11-9 (3-5 in Pac-12) Ducks may have one more reason to smile: Senior Forward Amanda Johnson could be back in the lineup after weeks on the disabled list with an injured hand. Before Johnson went out, Oregon was scoring 87 points a game. After she got hurt, that number dropped to 76 points per contest. Johnson would love to get back in sooner than later, especially if it’s against the Beavers.

“We’re taking it day-by-day at this point,” said Johnson about her status. “I’ve been wearing a brace on my hand in practice. I’m hoping to play on Saturday, but that’ll depend on whether or not I’ll need to protect my injury.”

If Johnson cannot play, there is still reason for optimism against an upstart Oregon State squad.  With the recent injuries to players like Johnson, it has forced others such as freshman guard Lexi Petersen, sophomore forward Danielle Love, and freshman forward Liz Brenner to step up. Head coach Paul Westhead is particularly pleased with Brenner, who joined the team last month after playing volleyball during the fall.

“Liz Brenner is a staple for us now,” Westhead explained. “A very good competitor who has found ways to score. I don’t think it was an accident that she’s averaged 15 points in our last two games, so she’s going to make baskets for us.”

Should the Ducks score enough baskets to beat the Beavers this weekend, it could provide the necessary boost to get them on a postseason run. But they have to play the game first.

Beavers Wish To Continue Winning Ways

Jared Cunningham is OSU's leading scorer. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The Oregon State men certainly righted their ship a week ago. Entering with a 1-5 conference record, there was reason to believe their season was dead in the water. But the Beavers edged UCLA 87-84 last Thursday, and then sucker punched USC 78-59 a couple days later.

Suddenly, OSU has an overall 13-7 record and has a legitimate chance at some type of postseason berth. Moreover, the Beavers could also be in a position to be a fly in their state rival’s ointment on Sunday at Matt Knight Arena.

An Oregon State victory would hamper the 15-5 Ducks’ chances of winning the Pac-12, as well as provide a little more fire in their fans’ regional bragging rights.

For that to happen, the Beavers will need stellar performances from their two guards. Jared Cunningham is leading OSU with just over 17 points per contest. Ahmad Starks is slightly behind him, scoring 13 points a game. If they can hit their shots, they’ll keep their team in the game and it might be enough to pull off an upset.

Ahmad Starks has been a solid contributor for the Beavers this year. (Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Over on the women’s side, it will be a travesty if Scott Rueck is not named Pac-12 coach of the year.  He’s continued to impress the conference with how competitive his Beavers have been this season.

A week ago, they got a split on their L.A. trip. OSU dropped a 69-60 contest against UCLA last Thursday, but rebounded with a 65-61 win over the weekend against USC.

Yes, the Beavers are only 3-5 in Pac-12 play, but they’ve hardly been a pushover. In fact, most of their games have been very tough battles decided by a play here or there.

A big reason for that has been the performance of Ali Gibson.  The freshman guard is leading the team in scoring with almost 13 points a game. They’ve also gotten solid play from Earlysia Marchbanks, who has been averaging 12 points per contest.

Should Oregon State hold home court against the Ducks, it’ll be one more significant step forward for a team that had to literally retool its roster a couple years ago. Whether or not they add that chapter to their storybook season will be determined on Saturday afternoon.

Some Ducks Are Rising…While More Could Be Leaving

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— 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.

Sorry Tampa Bay, no Chip for you. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

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.

E.J. Singler scored a career-high 26 points on Saturday. (Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

“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.

Eli Manning has been impressive during the NFC Playoffs. (Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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.

 

 

 

 

College Hoops Roundup 1-19-2012

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports

Critical Week For OregonThe Duck men come into this week with plenty of momentum after two solid wins in the desert.  Last Thursday, Oregon edged Arizona State 67-58 in Tempe. Two days later in Tucson, the Ducks were able to hold off a second half surge by the Wildcats and held on for a 59-57 victory over Arizona.

Dana Altman considers every game important. (Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

It marked the first Oregon road sweep over the Arizona schools since the 2006-2007 season.  More importantly, it gave the Ducks a 4-2 record in Pac-12 play.  That puts them one game behind Stanford, Cal, and Washington in the conference standings.Now, comes a critical week for these Ducks.  USC and UCLA are coming to town, if Oregon can take care of their home court, it’ll mean they could be contenders for the Pac-12 crown.  Forward Jeremy Jacob said the key will be learning from went well from their recent successes.“We just need to build from the two wins we had at Arizona,” Jacob explained. “We’re really playing against ourselves. No matter who we play against, we want to do what we’ve got to do.”

On paper, it looks like Thursday night’s game against the 0-5 Trojans would be in Oregon’s favor.  Conversely, Saturday’s matchup with the 3-2 Bruins could present a stiff challenge. But head coach Dana Altman stated that his team won’t be overlooking anyone this week, and cited that the new conference format (after expansion) makes every game even more crucial.

Jeremy Jacob (right) says the Ducks must build from their recent victories. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

“We’ve previously played the same schools twice in one year,” said Altman. “But this season, we’ll only play the Arizona schools once as well as USC and UCLA once. It’s going to make important if you have any ties at the end of the season with those teams. The top four teams in the conference tournament get byes in the first round and everyone else has to play. So finishing in that top four is going to be pretty important, but all the games we play are going to be important.”

Over on the women’s side, you saw a little bit of everything from Oregon again.  Last Thursday, the Ducks were able to get their fast-paced tempo going and cruised to a  87-73 win over Arizona at Matt Knight Arena.

On Thursday, however, Oregon couldn’t buy a bucket in the first half against Arizona State.  The Ducks really weren’t able to run the floor until late in the second half, and the Sun Devils held on for a 53-49 victory.

Paul Westhead’s squad now has a 2-4 record in the Pac-12, and you still can’t tell which way they could go this season.  They’ve had nice performances recently by freshman guard Lexi Petersen and sophomore Danielle Love.  But it’s clear they’ve missed the injured Amanda Johnson and her 20 points per game.  When she’s able to play again, this could be a fun team to watch.

Until then, it’s probably not the best time for these Ducks to go on the road to Southern California.  But since they don’t control the schedule, that’s what they must do.  They’ll tussle with 4-1 USC on Thursday night before visiting 2-3 UCLA this Saturday.

Beavers Need To Get Back On Track

The OSU men would love to replay their non-conference schedule again.  They finished 10-2 before starting Pac-12 play.  Since starting that slate, however, the Beavers find themselves with a 1-5 record and near the conference cellar.

Craig Robinson's Beavers need a couple wins. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Last week was another frustrating road trip for Craig Robinson’s crew. They lost 81-73 in overtime to Arizona on Thursday.  Then, over the weekend, the Beavers sputtered in Tempe as ASU prevailed 76-66.

Maybe some home cooking at Gill Coliseum is what these guys need.  They’ll get their chance to reverse course against UCLA on Thursday night.  The Beavers will then host USC on Saturday evening.

This team has got plenty of talent with older guys like Jared Cunningham and Joe Burton, as well as sophomore Devon Collier.  Buy they don’t seem to be able to put it all together for a consistent 40 minutes.  There’s still time for a potential postseason run, but clock ticks louder on those chances with every loss.

Meanwhile, the Oregon State women’s team has been surprisingly competitive, all things considered.  Two years ago, this program was literally rebuilding its roster when Scott Rueck took the coaching reins.  But they currently find themselves with an overall 11-6 record and are 2-3 in Pac-12 play.

Joe Burton and Jared Cunningham are two of OSU's most talented players. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Their past week was a bit of a mixed bag for them.  On Thursday, the Beavers battled for a 56-51 win over Arizona State.  However, they took one on the chin Saturday, losing 58-56 against Arizona.

This week in L.A. won’t be easy, either.  They’ll visit UCLA on Thursday evening, and then challenge USC Saturday.  A split might be all the Beavers can hope for on this trip.  Still, it would be another step in the right direction if they can pull it off.

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