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March 24, 2007
ST. LOUIS (AP) - Tajuan Porter, the little guy nobody wanted, has Oregon one game away from the Final Four.
The 5-foot-6 freshman tied an NCAA regional record with eight 3-pointers and finished with 33 points, and Oregon withstood a frantic comeback to top seventh-seeded UNLV 76-72 on Friday in the Midwest Regional.
The third-seeded Ducks advanced to play top-seeded Florida on Sunday.
"You get the feeling he was feeling good," Ducks guard Aaron Brooks said of Porter. "He's been doing it all year. It's not surprising to me. I had a front-row seat, the best seat in the house."
Malik Hairston had 14 points and 11 rebounds for Oregon (29-7), which has not reached a Final Four since winning it all in 1939. Maarty Leunen hit three 3-pointers and added 11 points.
After Porter and Hairston hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 66-49 with 5:23 to play, UNLV began chipping away.
Kevin Kruger and Michael Umeh combined for 13 points during a 17-4 run that got the Runnin' Rebels within 70-66 with 50.2 seconds to play. But Porter hit 4-of-6 from the line in the last 41 seconds and UNLV's Joe Darger missed a 3-pointer with 30 seconds to go.
"I think it got away from us a little bit," Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. "We talked about it in the locker room and you cannot be satisfied with it."
Umeh nailed another 3 with 12 seconds to go, and after a quick foul, Porter hit the first of two free throws to make it a five-point game.
Back came Darger, this time hitting a 3 from the top of the key with 3.2 seconds left. But the Rebels couldn't foul Oregon guard Bryce Taylor until 0.9 seconds left, and he hit both free throws to seal the win.
Kruger and Umeh scored had 15 points for UNLV (30-7). Darger added 13.
Porter, whose only scholarship offer from a big-name school came from Oregon, has suddenly become the darling of a tournament lacking a true underdog. He hit four 3-pointers to send Oregon past Winthrop in the second round, then picked up right where he left off against the Runnin' Rebels.
"He's been like that the entire year," Kent said. "He hits big shots in big games."
During one stretch in the first half, he scored 17 straight points for Oregon, hitting five 3-pointers in a span of just over five minutes. Even when he was fouled tossing up a 3, Porter canned all three free throws.
He capped a 14-2 run with a 3-pointer less than a minute out of halftime, giving the Ducks a 45-33 lead and forcing UNLV coach Lon Kruger to call a timeout. But a few minutes later, Porter pulled up in transition and buried another one from the top of the arc to make it 58-40.
On Oregon's very next possession, even UNLV fans were on their feet as Porter put up a shot from about 25 feet out. Finally, one clanked off the back iron.
The Runnin' Rebels regrouped, using a 9-0 spurt to close within 58-49. But Brooks scored on a driving layup and Porter hit another 3-pointer from the wing and the Ducks' lead was back to 63-49 with 6:41 to go.
Oregon dictated the tempo from the beginning, turning it into an up-and-down game and relying on the 3-point shot. The Ducks shot 56 percent from 3-point range (13-of-23) against a UNLV team that had held Georgia Tech to 27 percent and Wisconsin to 24 percent 3-point shooting in the first two rounds.
"Their quickness out front got us on our heels early," Lon Kruger said. "We obviously got it going late, but a little bit too little."
It was an unhappy ending to a touching story for Kruger and son Kevin, who transferred from Arizona State to play his senior season for his dad.
Hairston, Oregon's best defender, frustrated the younger Kruger all game. After hitting three big 3-pointers to help send UNLV past Wisconsin, he was 2-of-11 from beyond the arc against the Ducks.
Kruger struggled to contain Porter on defense, the diminutive guard popping rainbow 3s over him from the Missouri Valley logo beyond the wings.
"He can stop on a dime and not many people can do it," Kevin Kruger said.
For Porter, just getting to play at this level is an upset of sorts.
The Oregon coaching staff went to Renaissance High School in Detroit to scout Hairston, a McDonald's All-American. But an assistant coach spotted Porter - two years younger than Hairston - and implored Kent to give him a chance.
In his first three games for Oregon, he quickly made all those schools who thought he was too short think twice. He scored 27, 28 and 38 to help send Oregon off on a 13-0 start to the season.
"I've loved little point guards," Kent said. "A lot of coaches stay away from them because they think they're going to be a defensive liability. When I first saw him in a game, I saw a guy who could just shoot the lights out."