Kansas and Oregon are in footrace for berth in Final Four

Ducks will be trying to run mighty Jayhawks off court in regional final

College Basketball

March 24, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

MADISON, Wis. - Considering the tradition of their respective basketball programs and the expectations coming into the NCAA tournament, Kansas and Oregon should approach today's Midwest Regional final at the Kohl Center as polar opposites.

In this case, the opposites are quite an attraction because their playing styles are so similar.

The top-seeded Jayhawks have spent the past two weeks playing against teams trying to slow them down. In the second-seeded Ducks, Kansas (32-3) will face a team that will try to run the Jayhawks off the court.

Oregon (26-8) has spent the past two weeks trying to prove that its style of play was as conducive to winning in March as it was in January and February. In Kansas, the Ducks will face a team that will try to beat them at their own game.

"It's going to be a lot of fun," said Kansas guard Kirk Hinrich, hoping that the sprained ankle he suffered in an opening-round victory over Holy Cross will not hamper him as it did against Illinois on Friday night. "The last two weeks have not been a lot of fun."

Said Oregon guard Luke Jackson: "We're looking forward to this matchup because Kansas is going to get out there and run. We're going to run. I think it's going to be a burden for both teams to be able to stop the other."

Yet this matchup of two of the nation's highest-scoring teams - Kansas averages 90.7 a game and Oregon scores 85.5 - might come down to which plays the toughest defense.

The Jayhawks will have to adjust to going inside against Chris Christoffersen, Oregon's 7-foot-2, 300-pound center. Despite his bull-in-the-china-shop approach, Christoffersen had a significant impact in his team's 72-70 semifinal victory over Texas on Friday.

Christoffersen blocked four shots and altered several others, including the potential game-tying basket on a running 10-footer by Longhorns guard T.J. Ford right before the final buzzer.

"He's a big guy," said Kansas center Drew Gooden, who at 6-10, 230 is almost Lilliputian in comparison. "We're going to have be quicker, and we'll have to be smarter."

The Ducks also will find a team that uses a similar three-guard lineup, and comes in with reserves who can be just as effective as the starters, as happened when freshman swingman Keith Langford led Kansas to a 73-69 win over fourth-seeded Illinois.

In fact, it was Langford and two other freshmen, starting point guard Aaron Miles and reserve forward Wayne Simien, who played the most pivotal roles in helping the Jayhawks advance to their first regional final since they lost to Syracuse in 1996.

"They won the game for us," said junior forward Nick Collison.

If Collison and Hinrich get into foul trouble trying to stay with the more athletic Ducks, coach Roy Williams might have to look to his freshmen, and his bench, to bail Kansas out and get the team to the school's first Final Four since 1993.

While Williams doesn't think there is any pressure on him or his players because of their recent March failures, Oregon's Freddie Jones admits that the Ducks have just as much to lose in making their first appearance in a regional final since 1960.

Namely, a trip to next week's Final Four in Atlanta.

"Everyone expects Kansas to win, and no one gives us a chance of winning the championship," said Jones, who hit the winning shot against the Longhorns after making only one other basket while hampered by fouls. "But we have something to lose within our team because we expected to be in the Final Four when the season started."

Said Jackson, who led the Ducks with 25 points Friday night: "We can go in there relaxed and at the same time confident. I don't have any fear."

Gooden, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, finally could have the kind of explosive game that he demonstrated so many times during the regular season but hasn't shown since Oklahoma beat the Jayhawks in the Big 12 tournament final.

"It's going to be a track meet," Gooden said. "It is going to come down to who is going to give in and who is the better-conditioned team. It can come down to getting stops, getting a rebound. It can make a difference in a transition game."

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