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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT | MIDWEST REGIONAL

Porter gives Oregon a shot at the champs

March 24, 2007|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — In the dog days of February, Oregon lost five of six games in one stretch.

Now the Ducks are a victory from the Final Four, but it would have to be a big one.

They face defending NCAA champion Florida next.

The Ducks can thank 5-foot-6 freshman point guard Tajuan Porter for the privilege after watching him score 33 points and make eight of 12 three-pointers in their 76-72 NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal victory over Nevada Las Vegas in front of 26,307 Friday in the Edward Jones Dome.

"He was feeling good," teammate Aaron Brooks said. "It was fun to watch. I'm glad I had a front-row seat to watch it. I had the best seat in the house."

Porter's eight three-pointers tied the NCAA regional record shared by Michigan's Glen Rice, Loyola Marymount's Bo Kimble, Purdue's Cuonzo Martin and Iowa State's Dedric Willoughby.

Porter shrugged at the idea that playing in a dome could have been a problem.

"A shooter is a shooter," he said. "It's a round ball."

Oregon (29-7) has won nine games in a row, including three in the Pacific 10 Conference tournament. But the Ducks had to sweat out Friday's game after leading by as many as 18.

UNLV (30-7) still trailed by 17 with 5:24 to play, but the Rebels made an 8-0 run keyed by Kevin Kruger to cut the lead to nine.

In the final two minutes, UNLV cut it to four, 70-66, on a three-pointer and a layup by Michael Umeh.

Oregon made enough free throws to hold on, but not without some uncomfortable moments.

Next up, the Gators, who will have a significant size advantage.

Oregon's only starter over 6 feet 6 is Maarty Leunen, who is 6-9.

Florida starts 6-10 Al Horford and 6-11 Joakim Noah.

"Blocking out will be very important," said Oregon's Bryce Taylor, a 6-5 swingman. "We'll try to tire them out running up and down. Just get it and get into transition as quickly as possible."

Florida 65, Butler 57 -- Facing an undersized but sharp-shooting and surprisingly physical Butler team, the defending champions had to come from behind for the second game in a row.

"It was definitely a war out there," Florida's Joakim Noah said. "When you have a team that can shoot like that, one through five, from the perimeter, it's tough. We stuck together even when things weren't going well, and it was definitely a team effort."

Florida (32-6) fell behind by nine points in the first half after a run of Butler three-pointers.

The top-seeded Gators came back to lead by six at halftime, but they trailed by one late in the game before Horford backed in on Brandon Crone and converted a three-point play with 2:34 left for a 57-54 lead with 2:34 to play.

The Gators' Corey Brewer stretched the lead to five with a 10-foot jumper, and Florida made six of six free throws down the stretch while Butler went surprisingly cold.

Down the stretch, Mike Green, a 74% free-throw shooter, missed two, and A.J. Graves, a 95% free-throw shooter, missed one.

Despite a large size advantage, Florida had difficulty getting the ball inside to Noah and Horford.

"I don't know if they get enough credit for their defense," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said.

Guard Taurean Green bailed out the Gators by scoring 17 points, making five of eight three-pointers. Horford scored 16 points and Noah had 13 points and nine rebounds, including a crucial defensive rebound down the stretch.

Butler (29-7) stayed close even though A.J. Graves' shot was off. The fifth-seeded Bulldogs' leading scorer finished with 11 points on four-for-13 shooting, one for six from long range.

"We're very proud," Graves said. "It's disappointing obviously with the outcome, but we're not going to hang our heads."

*

robyn.norwood@latimes.com

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