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Believe in miracles? PSU will need one

On College Hoops
by: JAMIE SQUIRE, With big-time players like Brandon Rush, No. 1 seed Kansas is going to be a handful for Portland State University.

To become the first 16th seed to beat a No. 1, Portland State will have to pull off a miracle Thursday.

Then again, it's been a season of firsts on the park blocks, with the Vikings winning 23 games and going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since ramping up to Division I in 1996.

Hey, the U.S. beat the Russians and then won Olympic hockey gold in 1980.

We landed on the moon in 1969.

Georgia, sub-.500 going in, won the Southeastern Conference tournament Sunday.

And babies are born every day.

Miracles happen.

If anything, PSU (23-9) will get some great exposure in its Midwest Regional first-round game against Kansas (31-3) at Omaha, Neb. (9:25 a.m. PT). People will be tuning in to watch Kansas.

'It's a silver lining,' says Viking post Scott Morrison, surrounded by somewhat disappointed teammates at Buffalo Wild Wings in downtown Portland for NCAA Selection Sunday.

The Vikings deserved a better seeding, having lost only twice since New Year's Day, including to NCAA-bound Cal State Fullerton.

But, 'life goes on,' coach Ken Bone says, and the Viks will prepare for the Jayhawks, who possess just a tad bit more talent than your Northern Arizonas and Weber States of the Big Sky Conference.

It's pretty clear to me, as PSU eyes its matchup with the athletic and deep Bill Self-coached team: If point guard Jeremiah Dominguez can pull off some positive plays - points, assists, steals and no turnovers - the upstarts have an opportunity to keep the game close. If not, g'night early.

Dominguez, the Big Sky player of the year, is likely to be the focal point of Kansas' game plan, because his play ignites everything else - the slashing of Deonte Huff, the post-ups of Morrison, the shooting by Andre Murray and Kyle Coston.

Kansas' standout point guard, Mario Chalmers, will be in Dominguez's face, and the Jayhawks have many other bodies and long arms to send at PSU's 5-6 floor general.

'Once I start, the team follows,' Dominguez says. 'I lead, and I've got to lead by example and show we can compete against these guys.

'They're going to scout me, and I've just got to take every chance I have and make the most of it. I've got to play smart and not so careless.'

Don't bet against the kid to make some plays. Dominguez played against UCLA, Washington State and Washington this year and fared decently: 37 total points on 14-of-32 shooting (8 of 18 on 3-pointers), nine assists, five steals and only six turnovers. All losses, but Dominguez wasn't overmatched.

'I've got to keep the team on track,' he says. 'If we get down a couple points, we can't go and shoot quick shots. Keep the team focused and let us settle in, because I know guys will have some nerves.'

Murray says: 'If his motor's running, we'll be right there, ready to follow.'

Bone will have his men plenty prepared, including Dominguez for Chalmers' defense and any fullcourt pressure or traps the Jayhawks might utilize. Applying one's skills is another thing.

'J.D. is going to have to be good for us to stay in the game and have an opportunity to pull off an upset,' Bone says. 'We need J.D. to have a phenomenal game, and we need to shoot well, take care of the ball and screen out.

'We have to do something that has never been done.'

Dominguez averages 14.3 points, shoots .471 from the field (.439 on 3s) and .821 from the free-throw line, and he has 126 assists to 76 turnovers. Of course, most of that came against Big Sky point guards.

'With his speed and quickness, he flusters bigger point guards,' Morrison says. 'And he picks up (the opposing point guard defensively), makes them play 90 feet; guys can't get a running start on us.'

The Vikings led the Big Sky in 3-point shooting. It's the one weapon Dominguez and the Viks want to take advantage of.

'We have some great shooters, and not a lot of teams play that way,' he says. 'If we get hot, we're pretty dangerous.'

The fear is everybody will be negated, because 'they have a lot of Deontes, a lot of Scotts and a lot of mes,' Dominguez says. 'It's going to be interesting.'

• The Jayhawks average 81.5 points and give up 61.1. They shoot .505 and give up .382. They have a plus-7.9 rebounding margin.

Darrell Arthur (6-9) averages 13.1 points and 6.2 rebounds; Chalmers (6-1) averages 12.4 points and shoots .521; Brandon Rush (6-6) averages 12.9 points; and Darrell Jackson (6-8) averages 11.6 points. … Backup center Sasha Kaun shoots .621 from the field. … Kansas has its eighth No. 1 seed since 1986. … Bone recruited Chalmers, from Anchorage, Alaska, while an assistant at Washington. … Kansas lost to Kansas State (84-75), Texas (72-69) and Oklahoma State (61-60), but beat Texas 84-74 in the Big 12 Conference championship game.

nMorrison doesn't worry about guarding Kansas' big men. 'I'm more worried that they've got 60-inch verticals,' he says. 'That's a very athletic team. They're good, long and athletic, and get up the court quickly. We've got to try to slow them down in transition. We have to play a flawless game, limit our turnovers and not let them get into us; then we'll be able to stick with them.'

• It was a little shocking to see PSU be a No. 16 seed, but even more shocking to see the Oregon Ducks get a No. 9 seed. The Ducks (18-13), obviously, impressed the NCAA selection committee with their tough schedule and good finish in becoming the first 9-9 Pac-10 team to make the Big Dance.

The Ducks have a winnable first-round game in the South Regional, 4:25 p.m. PT Friday at Alltel Arena in Little Rock, Ark. They face Mississippi State (22-10), which appears defensible, with its best big guy being 6-9 Charles Rhodes (16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds). UO post Maarty Leunen probably has faced better.

Jamont Gordon, a 6-4 guard, averages 17.3 points and 6.3 rebounds. Guards Barry Stewart (11.6 points) and Ben Hansbrough (10.4) also are factors. The Bulldogs average 73.1 points and give up 65.1, emphasizing defense; the Ducks clearly have to stop them, because defense has been their Achilles' heel in losses.

If UO wins, it would get No. 1 Memphis (33-1) in the next game, unless hell freezes over and the Tigers lose to Texas-Arlington.