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March 16, 2007

Oregon escapes with win over RedHawks

SPOKANE, Wash. - When Oregon realized it couldn't run away from Miami of Ohio, the Ducks didn't get frustrated. They got tough on defense.

Aaron Brooks scored 18 points and the third-seeded Ducks held off No. 14-seed Miami 58-56 in the first round of the Midwest Regional on Friday.

The pesky RedHawks (18-15) had a chance to tie it late, but Michael Bramos' fallaway 3-point attempt bounced off the front of the rim. It was an unlikely 3-pointer that put Miami into the NCAA tournament - Doug Penno banked in a 3 at the buzzer to beat Akron in the Mid-American Conference championship game.

Oregon moves into the second round for the first time since 2002, and won its seventh consecutive game, all coming after the Ducks rediscovered a defense that helped them to a 13-0 start.

And defensive stops were at a premium in the second half when the RedHawks made a series of charges, twice closing within one, then cutting an 11-point lead to 54-51 with 1:45 left.

Brooks' jumper with a minute left was blocked - his second straight shot attempt blocked - and Tim Pollitz swished a short, baseline jumper with 40 seconds left to get Miami within 54-53.

Brooks then held the ball for 15 seconds, before slashing down the right side of the lane. He was fouled hard, but made both free throws for a three-point Oregon advantage with 21.1 seconds left.

The RedHawks went to Bramos, who hit three 3-pointers in the first half. He came off a screen of Nathan Peavy, but Joevan Catron stepped out and forced a fallaway attempt from 25 feet. It missed and Maarty Leunen grabbed the rebound, was fouled and hit both free throws.

Bramos then tossed up a half-court shot at the buzzer that swished for the final margin, but mattered little to Bramos, who showed no emotion and pulled his No. 24 jersey over his head.

Pollitz finished with 21 points and Bramos added 18 for the RedHawks, who were in the tournament for the first time since 1999 when Wally Szczerbiak carried a 10th-seeded Miami to the round of 16.

Oregon came into the game averaging more than 75 points per game, but relied on a defense that has continued to improve.

Miami became the fifth team in the last seven games Oregon held under 60 points. Knowing the RedHawks held a size advantage inside, the Ducks went to an aggressive zone defense early in the first half, and forced the RedHawks to the perimeter.

The switch ignited the Ducks' 20-0 run as Miami went scoreless for nearly 10 minutes. The partisan Duck fans roared just as loud for a shot-clock violation by the RedHawks', as Leunen's lob dunk.

Once Oregon went ahead 10-9 on Catron's free throw with 11:41 left in the first half, the Ducks never trailed, although Miami stayed close.

Pollitz scored five straight points early in the second half, bruising his way through the paint to pull the RedHawks within 37-36 with 12:29 left. It was 39-38 moments later when the 6-foot-9 Leunen hit a 3-pointer, starting a 15-5 run that gave the Ducks an advantage they needed.

Taylor capped the run with a pair of 3's that put the Ducks up 54-43.

Animated, veteran Miami coach Charlie Coles cheered, and screamed and smiled at the RedHawks effort, understanding this trip was a total surprise.

Miami ended the season as the only team in the country not to give up more than 70 points in a game.

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