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Ridnour, Oregon Take Nice Drive to Victory

March 14, 2003|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

The game could have gone either way.

So could have Oregon's chances of making the NCAA tournament.

The Ducks needed to win at least one game in the Pacific 10 tournament or face the prospect of being left out.

With 12 seconds left in a back-and-forth game against Arizona State, Oregon -- suddenly trailing by one -- let guard Luke Ridnour decide its fate.

Good call.

Ridnour, the Pac-10 player of the year, came off a high-post screen and took the ball to the basket for a driving layup with 3.3 seconds left.

Arizona State's last-second heave was no good, and Oregon (21-9) advanced to a semifinal game against UCLA tonight with an 83-82 victory Thursday at Staples Center despite a 27-point, 18-rebound performance by Arizona State freshman Ike Diogu.

"For this team, we knew we had to get one win," Ridnour said. "At the end, I prayed to make that shot, and it went in."

Forward Luke Jackson breathed a sigh of relief too.

"I feel like this win pretty much guarantees us a spot in the NCAA tournament," he said.

Arizona State (19-11) would like to have added a 20th victory, but the Sun Devils are probably safely in the NCAA field as well after going 11-7 in the Pac-10 with a solid nonconference schedule. The Pac-10 probably will send five teams -- Arizona, Stanford, California, Arizona State and Oregon, barring another team winning the tournament title.

"Even if they take four [from the Pac-10] they should take us, the way I see it," Arizona State Coach Rob Evans said. "We finished fourth in this league, and we have a 32 RPI, which is higher than anybody else but the top three.... We don't have bad losses, and we have good wins."

He's right: An RPI better than 40 is close to a lock. The only nervousness should be because Arizona State lost four of its final six, though three of those were to ranked teams -- Arizona, Stanford and Cal.

Even so, Arizona State had a good chance to pull out a late victory after two botched plays by Oregon, which led by eight after a Ridnour three-point basket with 2:26 left, and still led by five with 24 seconds left.

But Curtis Millage, who finished with 25 points, made a second-chance three-point basket to cut the lead to two with 14 seconds left.

Then Oregon turned the ball over on an inbounds play, and when Arizona State set up to inbound the ball under its own basket, Oregon inexplicably left Diogu wide open for a two-footer.

He banked it in, was fouled and made the free throw for an 82-81 lead.

Leave it to Ridnour to pull out the game -- and perhaps the season.

He finished with 23 points and six assists and was four of four from three-point range, but it was that driving layup that meant the most.

Asked if it was the biggest shot of his career, Ridnour responded with a one-word answer: "Yep."

From the looks of things, he might be playing his final games as a Duck. At Oregon's last home game, the junior was put back in the game for a curtain call, with congratulations all around as he came out.

For at least another couple of games, he'll be around when Oregon needs him.

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