Aaron Brooks' career has been defined by a series of moments, some good -- those brief instances that have made the 6-foot Oregon point guard one of the nation's most clutch players -- and some bad -- those head-scratching ones that had been the previous benchmarks of his career.
On Jan. 4, 2003, during his freshman season, Brooks was so overcome by frustration in a game against UCLA he punched the backboard support and broke a bone in his right wrist, and missed 10 games.
During the quarterfinals of the '06 Pac-10 tournament, with 10 minutes left in the first half, Brooks set a screen and thrust his right forearm into the face of Washington's Ryan Appleby, dropping the Huskies guard. Brooks was ejected, ending his season.
Now, fast forward to Jan. 6, 2007, in a game against UCLA. With 13 seconds left, Brooks hit a baseline jumper to give the Ducks a 68-66 victory of then-No. 1 UCLA. It was the Bruins' first losss of the season. Then on Jan. 14 -- his 22nd birthday -- playing against Arizona, Brooks banked in a shot over two defenders with two seconds left to give Oregon a 79-77 win.
Between those cringe-worthy periods and the late-game heroics came Brooks' most defining moment; more defining than anything he's done on the hardwood: on May 20, 2006, Brooks' daughter, Mikah Lamaj Brooks, was born. It nearly took him out of Oregon and back home to Seattle so he could be close to Mikah and her mom as he considered transferring to Division II Seattle Pacific University. Instead, he returned to Eugene, Ore., with a new focus.
"[Now] I go into the game with the mindset of 'Regardless of what happens in the game, everything will be alright as long as I have my daughter,'" Brooks said. "I love basketball, but it's in perspective now. It's not everything.
"I think when you put [it] all into one thing and that's not going right ... I think my game suffered from that."
There hasn't been much suffering this season as the seventh-ranked Ducks (19-2, 7-2 in the Pac-10) have matched the best start in school history on year after finishing 15-18. In averaging a Pac-10-leading 19.1 points, Brooks has keyed Oregon's surprising start -- surprising to everyone but the Ducks themselves.
"I knew what this team was capable of," Brooks said. "I see the teams that went to the Final Four last year and the teams that made the national-title game. The players that those teams were recruiting are on our team, too. A couple of us [Brooks and forward Malik Hairston] had a chance to go to UCLA and we chose not to. We have guys that are good and we're just now putting it together and it's good to see."
While Brooks has put his past actions behind him, last Thursday served as a reminder as he watched the Ducks' game at Washington at his mom's house. It was the final part of the university's punishment for the flagrant foul on Appleby, as he was suspended for Thursday's 89-77 loss to the Huskies. He also had to sit out the Pac-10 tourney game following the incident last season, as well as the first game of this season, against Lehigh.
"It all came back [with Thursday's suspension]," Brooks said. "That's something that happened in the past ... I'm just glad that [Appleby's] all right and that he's playing well. I just wish the best for him."
Brooks got back to action on Saturday against Washington State, scoring 31 points as the Ducks won 77-74 in overtime and are now tied for the Pac-10 lead after UCLA's loss to Stanford.
Just like Brooks, the entire Oregon program is on the rebound. Coach Ernie Kent came under fire after a string of disappointments following '02's Elite Eight run. Last year, Oregon lost eight games by three points or less but this year's team has thrived in nail biters, winning their seventh Pac-10 game by eight points or less. And these Ducks aren't looking to stop the party.
"We love where we're at right now; we love being ranked, we love the spotlight, the exposure and everybody getting their looks," Brooks said. "The veterans on this team, we know to maintain where we're at we have to play hard and give it our all, or otherwise all that goes away."
Volunteer State Swing
Apparently, only one of Tennessee's SEC teams can be riding high at a time. The Vols looked dangerous after non-conference wins against Texas, Memphis and Oklahoma State, while Vanderbilt was beaten by Furman and Appalachian State. But the SEC has been another story. Vandy is now 5-2, having won four straight in conference for the first time since 1996-97, while Tennessee is 2-4 and has lost four of five in SEC play. As much as the two teams rely on the three-pointer (Vandy is first in the conference in treys made with 195, while the Vols are second with 194), it's what the Commodores are doing on the defensive end that has been the biggest difference between these in-state rivals. During Vandy's four-game winning streak it has held opponents to 40 percent, or worse, from the field (including LSU, which shot 32.3 percent). During that same span, Tennessee has allowed 75 ppg in going 1-3 in its last four SEC games. There is reason for doubt and hope on both sides though: Vandy travels to Gainesville to face defending champ Florida on Wednesday, while the Vols should get a lift from the return of, Chris Lofton, who has been out with an ankle injury.
Ups & Downs
Brigham Young Cougars
BYU earned its first victory over a ranked team since beating Oklahoma State on Dec. 6, 2003, and did it in dominating fashion. The Cougars outrebounded No. 16 Air Force 42-20 and pushed their home winning streak to 27.
Things have gone awry in the Bayou. LSU has lost three in a row with Sunday's 57-54 defeat to Georgia and is 2-4 in its last six. During that span, the Tigers are shooting 37.7 percent from the field and averaging 57.7 ppg.
Here we go with another Pac-10 surprise. As if Oregon wasn't enough, the Cardinal have won six of their last seven in the Pac-10 including Sunday's win against UCLA. It was the second loss for the Bruins, who also lost to ... Oregon. Creepy.
Everything is going wrong for Arizona. Saturday's 28-point loss to North Carolina was its fifth in seven games and the worst of coach Lute Olson's tenure as the Wildcats committed 20 turnovers and shot 33.9 from the field.
They're harkening back to the days of Roger Mason Jr. at Virginia. With Sunday's win at Clemson, the Tigers won back-to-back ACC road games and four straight in the conference for the first time since 2001-02.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
The growing pains are continuing for the Demon Deacons, who lost their sixth straight after falling to Florida State on Saturday. Wake Forest is now 4-20 in the ACC since Chris Paul left for the NBA after 2004-05.
They Said It
"I can't use the language... [I said] just shoot the ball. Just shoot it. Don't think about it."
--Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan on his talk with Brian Butch, who after a three-point first half, was 4-of-7 from long distance the second half in helping the 21-1 Badgers to their 17th straight victory.
"That was truly like a 15-round fight. They just kept coming, and fortunately we did, too."
--Marquette coach Tom Crean after Jerel McNeal made a layup at the buzzer to give the Golden Eagles a come-from-behind 70-68 win over South Florida.
"So I asked him, 'You ready now, or do you need to throw a couple more passes to the guys in blue. We're wearing white, son.'"
--Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson on Xavier Keeling, who nine seconds after entering the win over Michigan, threw a pass that was picked off by Lester Abram and taken in for two.
Big Men On Campus
Kevin DurantF - Texas
Maybe I should just go ahead and reserve one of these BMOC spots for Durant. The freshman had 34 points, his fourth 30-point game in Big 12 play on 9-of-18 shooting and added nine rebounds as the Longhorns beat Baylor 84-79.
Alando TuckerF - Wisconsin
The Boss Badger scored 27 points, his sixth game with 25 or more this season, in the win over Iowa. "[He's] the best in the country," guard Kammron Taylor told the AP. "He basically put this team on his back and carried us."
Nick FazekasF - Nevada
Mr. Double-Double did it again. Fazekas had 24 points and tied a career high with 18 rebounds for the 54th double dip of his Nevada career as the Wolf Pack beat Utah State. Fazekas is now sixth on the all-time WAC scoring list with 2,195 points.
Kentucky and Tennessee met for the 202nd time, making the second-longest series in SEC play behind Ole Miss and Mississippi State, who have met 233 times. UK leads the series 139-63.
Saturday's win over Penn gave St. Joseph's Phil Martelli his 234th victory as Hawks coach, tying him for second all-time on the school's wins list with Hall of Famer Jack Ramsey.
Syracuse's Jim Boeheim joined Jim Calhoun (UConn), Jim Phelan (Mount St. Mary's), Don Haskins (UTEP) Ray Meyer (DePaul), Adolph Rupp (Kentucky) and Earl Diddle (Western Kentucky) as the only coaches to coach 1,000 games with the same school.
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