Sunday, March 25, 2007

that was fun while it lasted

After such good play in the last two games, Malik played well again but ran into foul trouble against the Gators. Photo: Christin Palazzolo, Daily Emerald

I saw two things after Oregon's season-ending loss to the defending national champion Florida Gators today:

I saw a team, under pressure for the first time in a long time, just have an off day and miss far too many shots and making mistakes. What was Tajuan, 2 for 12? If he even hits two more of those to go 33% then it's a different ballgame. How about the fouls? Sometimes the refs are whistle happy; good, very experienced and top-level teams can play through it; I guess the Ducks couldn't today.

I also saw a team without that experience - only Zahn had ever been to the NCAA tournament before this year, and he was a redshirt freshman at the time - finally earn their stripes in the past couple of weeks and especially today. The pain in the eyes of Maarty Leunen and Malik Hairston - see Malik above - was not the pain of a team who was just happy to be there; it's the pain of a team that thought it had a legitimate chance to continue on and take home the big gong.

That appetite will be with Maarty, Bryce, Malik and, yes, Champ as they try and set out for a senior year to remember next year. It will be with Tajuan Porter, who always takes adversity as a fuel to drive him, simply because he doesn't want to be remembered as a flop in his biggest game. He'll need every ounce of that because he *is* the biggest question mark next year: can he handle all the responsibilities that were split between himself and Aaron Brooks this past season? Can he lead a team *and* be a leading scorer? Can he calm his mercurial streak for shooting?

So many questions, so much potential still, and so much pain in the team for coming up just a few steps short. I think this will be a team to watch next year. We certainly won't sneak up on anybody this time around, but I think the seniors next season can handle that pressure.

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