Ducks keep a low profile against underdog hype
EUGENE — Let the UNLV Runnin' Rebels grab all the attention as the scrappy underdogs still alive in the NCAA Tournament. The Oregon Ducks are happy to keep a low profile.
"I hope we can continue to fly under the radar and win some more games," coach Ernie Kent said.
Third-seeded Oregon meets UNLV Friday night in St. Louis in the round of 16. The Ducks (28-7) defeated Miami (Ohio) and Winthrop to advance.
The seventh-seeded Runnin' Rebels knocked off Georgia Tech and second-seeded Wisconsin to earn the trip.
UNLV (30-6), with a nine-game winning streak, is the highest seeded team remaining in the field.
UNLV has not been to the round of 16 since 1991, when Jerry Tarkanian was the team's coach. The Runnin' Rebels won the NCAA championship in 1990 when they defeated Duke, 103-73.
This season's Runnin' Rebels swept the MWC tournament to lock up an automatic NCAA bid, and have become the lovable longshot with a father-son story line about coach Lon Kruger and guard Kevin Kruger.
The Ducks faced the same type of opponent in Winthrop, which many picked to upset Oregon.
While the Eagles were hyped, Oregon went to work and came away with a 75-61 victory.
"I think we just took it as a challenge," guard Aaron Brooks said. "Analysts are going to pick who they think will win and we just took it as a challenge and a chip on our shoulder and we came out and played like that."
Third-seeded Oregon, the Pacific-10 tournament champion, has won eight straight games. If they beat the Runnin' Rebels, they'll face the winner of the game between Butler and Florida.
Oregon also has a chance to get to 29 victories — the same as the 1939 "Tall Firs" that won the first-ever NCAA Championship. It is still the Ducks' only NCAA basketball title.
Oregon has been to the tournament nine times and has advanced to the regional semifinals five times. But Oregon has not been back since 2003.
"If all these other teams are Cinderellas — coming from where we came from the last couple of years, what are we?" Malik Hairston asked.
Kevin Kruger would probably disagree with UNLV's Cinderella label, too. He said he believed the Runnin' Rebels were going to be in the mix from the start.
"I honestly did. Nobody really believed it when I said, I'm sure you can find one of those Vegas papers early on, that I predicted to go to the tournament and make some noise," he said. "That's what I've been saying all year and more ears have been listening as the year has gone on.
"But I believed, as soon as I got here and the workouts started, that we had a team that was better than a lot of teams and it's kind of coming to fruition right now."
UNLV is nonetheless hurting going into Friday's game. Wink Adams had a badly bruised his tailbone and Kruger, his backcourt mate, was recovering from a bruised ankle. Swingman Wendell White is nursing bruised ribs.