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Originally published Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers

Oregon coach Ernie Kent likely to survive a tough season

But you take care of your own, just one reason for Oregon to stay the course with Kent for another year. There are better reasons: He's working with a young team, and ought to get the chance to see freshmen like Michael Dunigan, Josh Crittle and Garrett Sim through as sophomores.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

Way back in the mid-1970s, Ernie Kent was a player at Oregon in the famous days of the "Kamikaze Kids" under Dick Harter. Kent was a bit of an anomaly, a swingman of showy talents who brought along the nickname "Million Moves" when he came west from outside Chicago. (A clothes horse, now he's just "Million Suits.")

But Kent seemed to fit relatively well into the manic, militaristic Harter system. Once, the Eugene Register-Guard ran a photograph of Kent taking a charge, and Kent's body was knocked back, straight as an ironing board at a 45-degree angle to the floor, taking one for the team.

Much as he stood by them more than three decades ago, the Ducks now need to do that for him.

Yes, Oregon is having an epically bad season. It's 0-13 in the Pac-10, in a year when the league isn't even in the top four nationally. If the Ducks lose five more, it would be a whitewash worse than Oregon State's in 2008, simply because the league was at its best then.

Say this for the Ducks: They're versatile, capable of scoring 10 baskets one night in a 29-point loss to WSU, and turning around two days later and giving up 103 at Washington.

But you take care of your own, just one reason for Oregon to stay the course with Kent for another year.

There are better reasons: He's working with a young team, and ought to get the chance to see freshmen like Michael Dunigan, Josh Crittle and Garrett Sim through as sophomores.

With Kent, you've got to look at the big picture. The dean of Pac-10 coaches, he has had two teams make it to the NCAA final eight this decade, and nobody in Oregon history has approached that, nor topped his 217 victories there.

Still, in a recent interview with The Register-Guard, athletic director Pat Kilkenny offered one of the stranger votes of confidence ever. On whether Kent is secure there, Kilkenny said in part, "I sure hope so. ... For me to make a change with our men's basketball program would almost make me want to throw up. But never say never."

And: "I don't think it's ever about me or the guy that sits in this office."

In other words, "Excuse me while I grab this call from Beaverton."

It's thought that Kent is on at least decent terms with Nike czar Phil Knight. And while momentum for Oregon's new basketball arena is an issue, that's not necessarily at odds with an improved, but still young, team next year — especially if the Ducks can't hire a "name" coach.

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Working in Kent's favor is uncertainty over when Mike Bellotti will step down as Oregon football coach and assume Kilkenny's position. Bellotti won't announce until late March, and he's probably hanging on for at least one more year, but it wouldn't be best if his first official act is jetting to the Final Four to seek Kent's successor.

Besides, women's coach Bev Smith (who also starred at Oregon, come to think of it) is likely to be replaced, and it seems unlikely the Ducks would make it a quinella.

I asked Kent Tuesday on the weekly Pac-10 coaches call whether he felt the administration had his back.

"We knew we were going to have a tough season, but I feel we're moving in the right direction, and we're going to be very good," Kent said in part. "I do feel that [I have support], and we're just going to keep marching forward."

Rim Shots

• It must be getting late in the Pac-10 race. Just as last year's finish was marred by several controversial calls, Arizona State benefited from an awful charging call on UCLA's Darren Collison last week, probably taking a lead out of UCLA's hands with 39 seconds left. All that did was potentially cost the Bruins a Pac-10 crown.

• Big guys need not apply for the title of best free-throw shooter in the Pac-10. Nobody in the league's top seven is taller than 6-1.

• Four Arizona Wildcats have been Pac-10 player of the week, and none from Washington. Here's one key: Nobody has won it after spending the weekend playing the Oregon schools.

• In league games, Klay Thompson and Taylor Rochestie combine to shoot 49.6 percent on threes. Their Washington State teammates are a composite 21.1 percent.

• Among the reasons the season is a struggle for WSU: In seven of its last 10 games, its opponents have kept turnovers in single digits.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Bud Withers

Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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