Arizona could use more of Oregon's Porter's heart
LOS ANGELES -- This is the week where you decide which teams you are going to latch on to and which to write off.
After Thursday's performance in the Pac-10 quarterfinals, put Oregon and its feisty 5-6 freshman shooting guard Tajuan Porter down in pen. Then change to a pencil for Arizona, since the Wildcats played with such little interest in a 69-50 loss to the Ducks that they possibly will fall to their first double-digit NCAA seed since they were a 10-seed in 1987.
The Ducks, like Clemson, were one of the last undefeated teams in the country. Unlike Clemson, though, Oregon didn't fall completely flat. Sure, the Ducks had their flat-footed moments, like when they lost three of four on a road swing against the Washington and L.A. schools. Getting swept in the Bay Area was no fun, either.
But since then, the Ducks got a revenge sweep of Washington State and Washington at home and then took out rival Oregon State yet again to finish the regular season at 23-7. With an 11-7 league record -- tied with Arizona and USC for third in the Pac-10 -- Oregon coach Ernie Kent said he looked at Thursday's game as a way for the Ducks to stay in contention for a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and be protected in Spokane, Wash., in the first and second rounds.
"This was a huge game for us, on national TV, with everyone watching on the selection committee," Kent said. "We've got a good resume with a win at Georgetown, two wins over Arizona, a sweep of Washington State, a win over UCLA. I'd like to think we can stay out West."
You'll enjoy watching Porter play. Who wouldn't? He's all of 5-6 and yet he's as tough to contain as any guard you'll see in the Tournament. Porter led the Ducks with 21 points, making 5 of 6 3s. Arizona tried in vain to put a taller fellow on him, but all that did was stretch the defense out. He mocked defenders with deep 3-pointers, stretched the defense to enable Aaron Brooks to pick the Cats apart, and opened up even more shots for Arizona coach Lute Olson's favorite Duck, forward Maarty Leunen.
Remember, this is the same Porter who started out the season scoring 27, 28 and then 38 points in his first three games of his career. He later missed two games with turf toe and ended up finishing the regular season averaging 13.8 points a game. This is also the same Porter who grew up in Detroit and didn't get a serious look from either Michigan or Michigan State. And don't think for a second he hasn't forgotten.
"I don't know, there was a lot of politics, saying I was too small to play at one of those Michigan schools," Porter said.
"I made the best decision for me. That's their loss. If I would have went to any other school, I would be doing the same thing I'm doing here. I'm glad I'm at Oregon and playing to the best of my ability."
Leunen said he remembers Porter coming into practice in the fall and thinking there's no way someone that small could score at this level. Is he ever glad he was wrong.
"He's got too many moves," Brooks said of trying to defend Porter. "He's a big-time player."
The Wildcats could use someone with Porter's edge, heart and desire. After the game, Olson couldn't have been more distraught over his team's lack of heart and mental toughness.
"It's obvious," said Olson, who noted after the game that he wouldn't hesitate changing his starting lineup for the first-round NCAA game if that would shake up the attitude of this lot. "We come out in the first four minutes, turn the ball over, they get five offensive rebounds to one defensive rebound for us. It's got to be something missing either here [pointing to his heart] or there [to his head]. I challenged them. 'Are you embarrassed by someone beating you to the basket? Do you take that as a challenge?' If not, it's going to be a short NCAA run unless we get some self-discipline and toughness needed."
That kind of stuff, the kind of makeup that Porter has, would do wonders for the raw talent on Arizona. The moral here is buy Oregon, sell Arizona, unless the Wildcats change their stripes soon.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.