Oregon proved that it had the offensive depth to win without its leading scorer its last time out. The Ducks, though, hope Malik Hairston will be ready to return in time for this weekend’s matchup with one of the top defenses in the country.
After missing a game with a knee injury, Hairston is expected to play when the 16th-ranked Ducks meet Nebraska at the Qwest Center in Omaha on Saturday in a game between the Pac-10’s highest-scoring offense and the Big 12’s stingiest defense.
Hairston, leading the Ducks (8-1) with 16.5 points per game, bruised his right knee in a 75-64 win over Utah last Saturday. He dressed for Oregon’s 93-66 victory over Sacramento State on Tuesday, but remained on the bench along with reserve guard LeKendric Longmire (bruised ribs).
Oregon coach Ernie Kent said both could have played Tuesday if it had been necessary.
“They should be ready for the weekend,” Kent said.
The Ducks didn’t miss a beat without them. Maarty Leunen had a season-high 23 points and added 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double of 2007-08, and Joevan Catron had 20 points and eight boards. Leunen and Catron each went 8-for-10 from the field.
“(Maarty) and Joevan both were really good,” Kent said. “They’re both really skilled and crafty basketball players. … It seems like they’re always in the right place to rebound the ball. They play with such tremendous passion and poise on the floor.”
Leunen, third in the conference with 10.4 rebounds per game, moved into 10th in school history with 704 career boards. He was also one shy of his career-high of 24 points, set last Dec. 28 against Portland.
“I knew our numbers were a little down so I had to come out and be aggressive and look to score a little more,” said Leunen, one of four Oregon players averaging between 15.7 and 16.5 points. “I felt I did a good job of that. I just got into a little rhythm.”
Oregon’s offense ranks fourth in the nation with 89.7 points per game and 13th with a 51.1 field-goal percentage. Reaching those numbers against Nebraska (7-2), however, could be a challenge.
The Cornhuskers are fifth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 53.9 points per game. They’re also seventh in opponents’ field-goal percentage at 36.1.
The Cornhuskers’ defensive effort was particularly impressive on Tuesday, when they held Savannah State to 26.4 percent shooting in an 82-37 win. Twelve Nebraska players scored in the blowout as the Cornhuskers improved to 7-0 at home.
“The thing I am most proud of with this team is they continue to give maximum effort no matter who we are playing against,” Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said. “At times tonight, it would have been easy to maybe get a little selfish, get a little lazy on defense.”
Sadler’s club will face its toughest test so far against Oregon, the Cornhuskers’ first ranked opponent of the season. Nebraska has held each of its opponents under 75 points, but Oregon has scored at least 75 in every game.
“We have played some good teams, but obviously not the caliber of Oregon. They legitimately have a chance, with some luck, to make it to San Antonio (the Final Four) at the end of the year,” Sadler said. “I think we are more ready now than we would have been (earlier this season).”
Nebraska limited Oregon to 40.0 percent shooting when these teams met last Dec. 9, but the Cornhuskers committed 18 turnovers and forced just nine in a 68-56 loss. Bryce Taylor, averaging 15.7 points this season, led the Ducks with 18 points in that game.