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Oregons defense heats up at NIT

Start spreading the news: The Oregon Ducks can play some defense.- For a team that couldn't stop most Pacific-10 Conference teams, the Ducks haven't done too badly in the NIT heading into the semifinals tonight at Madison Square Garden.

The Ducks held Colorado and 7-foot tower David Harrison to .438 shooting, then lowered the mark to .313 against George Mason and .381 against Notre Dame. Defense, coaches say, boils down to effort, and the Ducks have been giving their all trying to win college basketball's consolation-prize tournament.

Oregon (18-12) plays Michigan (21-11) at 6 p.m., with the winner advancing to play Rutgers (19-12) or Iowa State (20-12) in Thursday's 4 p.m. final.

'There's kind of an urgency about the way we play defense,' star Luke Jackson says. 'Plus, with Aaron (Brooks) back, it gives us a new dimension.'

Brooks missed 10 games with a broken wrist bone, but the point guard has sparked Oregon of late with his energy, defense and shooting.

Adds Jackson, in last week's Eugene Register-Guard: 'Effort has always got to be there, but there's so many little things you have to understand about a defensive game plan, and having the whole team buy into that on every possession is really key.'

Six of Oregon's last seven opponents have failed to shoot better than .500. Compare that to five February defeats in which Oregon gave up an average of 86 points.

Adds Andre Joseph, in The Register-Guard: 'We're playing good team defense. Everybody's playing as a team; we're not all going our separate ways.'

The Ducks beat George Mason and Notre Dame, even without Jackson having his best games. After scoring 40 points against Colorado, he tallied 14 in each of the next two. Others have picked up the slack, notably Joseph, who is averaging 17.3 points and shooting .645 in three NIT games, playing great defense and seems full of confidence.

Jackson, who would be marquee material in the Big Apple, says, 'Andre has really picked up his game, relied on his defense and shared the ball.'

Jackson will be at the NCAA Final Four in San Antonio to compete in the college 3-point shooting contest, but not before trying to seal the NIT deal in Donald Trump's back yard.

'What's better, losing in the first round of the NCAAs, or going to the Final Four of the NIT?' Jackson says. 'Every team's goal is the postseason. I want to play as much ball as I can. I don't want to go out with a loss.'

Jackson, Joseph and fellow seniors Jay Anderson and James Davis will be ending their UO careers. When the NIT began, coach Ernie Kent told the Ducks they should be in it to win it, and Anderson says Kent preached how the seniors could play more games and the youngsters like Brooks and Mitch Platt could get valuable experience.

First up is Michigan, the team that the NCAA forgot when it purged the team's 1992 and 1993 Final Four appearances from the record books in the wake of the Chris Webber scandal. Webber got paid by a Michigan booster as a prep player in Detroit and then lied to a grand jury about it. The Wolverines have recovered from plummeting to the depths of NCAA basketball to go 21-11, including 8-8 in the Big Ten Conference.

The Wolverines 'are really athletic and pretty young, and pretty perimeter oriented,' Anderson says. 'They have three guards who can score well,' including Bernard Robinson Jr. He's no Stephon Marbury of the Knicks, but he's pretty good.

Jackson says Michigan is 'athletic like UCLA, except young.'

Notes

The four Kansas juniors, including Portland's Aaron Miles and Michael Lee, fell short of their quest to play in their third Final Four, falling to Georgia Tech in the Midwest Regional Elite Eight game 79-71 on Sunday. Georgia Tech scored the last eight points in overtime. 'It -doesn't feel good, I can tell you that,' Lee, who fouled out with 11 points, told the Lawrence Journal-World. 'But I will not hold my head down after this. We battled back all season. We scratched and clawed and went a lot further than some of the naysayers said. A situation like this, you've got to take the bitter with the sweet.' Said Miles: 'I had too many turnovers in critical parts of the game. I didn't do my part. We made bonehead plays, myself in particular.'