Cool hand Luke
Ridnour leads Oregon to first Pac-10 tournament titlePosted: Saturday March 15, 2003 8:58 PM
Updated: Saturday March 15, 2003 10:34 PM
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The suspense surrounding Steve Lavin's attempts to keep his job as UCLA coach overshadowed the first two days of the Pac-10 Conference tournament.
Oregon grabbed the spotlight on the final day.
Luke Ridnour had 18 points and nine assists, Luke Jackson added 17 points and the Ducks defeated Southern California 74-66 Saturday to win their first league tournament title.
"With what was going on with UCLA, what was lost in the shuffle was this team and what we were able to accomplish in three days," Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. "What a way to close out the regular year and conference tournament for us. It puts us in position to be one of the upper-echelon teams in the conference from now on."
Fifth-seeded Oregon became the lowest seed to win and the only other champion besides Arizona and UCLA in the tournament's six-year history. The Ducks won their first two games, against Arizona State and UCLA, by one point each.
The Ducks (23-9) earned the conference's automatic NCAA tournament berth, although they were already assured of a spot, despite losing five of their final nine regular-season games.
"Last year, we went on a very good run at the end of the season and it's starting to feel like that again," Jackson said.
Oregon will be making its second straight appearance and third in four years in the NCAAs, where the Ducks lost to Kansas in the final eight last year.
"Guys are starting to feel like we did last year," Ridnour said. "We're starting to play our best basketball at the end of the season. We feel we can go on a run in the NCAA tournament."
The seventh-seeded Trojans (13-17) won't be going anywhere. They needed a victory to make the tournament for the third consecutive year. A year ago, the Trojans lost in the final to Arizona.
"The whole team expected to win," USC guard Derrick Craven said. "This hurts."
Desmon Farmer led USC with 19 points, but he didn't score in the second half when he was benched during crucial stretches. Late in the game, USC fans booed when Farmer was taken out again.
"I wasn't happy with Desmon's performance," coach Henry Bibby said. "What he was doing wasn't in the framework of our team. He wasn't focusing on team basketball. The game isn't about Desmon Farmer, it's about our team. I have that right not to put him in the game."
Farmer shot 0-for-7 playing 12 minutes in the second half. At halftime, Bibby said Farmer was being selfish.
"It was really my fault," Farmer said. "I must have done something wrong."
Rory O'Neil had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Craven added 13 points for the Trojans, who got within four points with 21/2 minutes remaining then missed shots down the stretch.
"I think both teams got tired," Ridnour said. "They came out with a lot of energy those last 10 minutes. That was their season on the line right there."
Ridnour, the Pac-10 player of the year, was selected MVP of the three-day tournament at Staples Center. Jackson and teammate James Davis made the all-tourney team, along with USC's Farmer and O'Neil, and UCLA's Ray Young.
Just like the game's opening minutes, the Ducks dominated the start of the second half, going on a 22-8 run that increased their lead to 59-43.
The Trojans trailed by 17 points when they rallied to cut their deficit to 61-52 with an 8-0 run. But Errick Craven was called for a technical foul that turned into a three-point possession for the Ducks. Ridnour made both free throws on the technical and one of two after being fouled to keep the Ducks ahead 64-52.
"Every technical foul is big," Bibby said. "Three free throws with one of the best shooters in the Pac-10 is very detrimental to what we're trying to do."
Andre Joseph hit a 3-pointer to give the Ducks a 15-point lead with 8:39 remaining, and they scored just five points the rest of the game.
Derrick Craven scored 11 consecutive points for the Trojans when the Ducks were mired in a stretch of missed shots and turnovers. His spurt drew USC to 69-63 with 3:51 left.
"We weren't driving the whole game," Craven said. "We needed to be a little bit more aggressive."
The Ducks raced to a 10-point lead to start the game. Then USC scored 15 straight points in 31/2 minutes to take its first lead at 19-14. A basket by O'Neil pushed USC's lead to 31-24 before the Ducks outscored USC 13-4 to end the half ahead 37-35.
Oregon started the season strongly, winning its first six games and being ranked fifth in the nation. But the Ducks faded from the Top 25 after losses to top-10 opponents Cincinnati and Arizona, and Pac-10 rivals California and Stanford.
USC reserve guard Roy Smiley broke his lower left leg with 11
minutes remaining in the game and the Trojans trailing by 14
points. He was carried off the court by teammates Jerry Dupree and