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CHAMPAIGN - This is the once-a-year chance to strut some stuff on the pro court in the state's premier venue under the glare of the big city lights.

Just one thing is different for the University of Illinois basketball team.

Today, the 11th-ranked Illini (9-0) are the guests.

Oregon (4-2) entertains Illinois at 7 p.m. today in the eighth annual Pape' Jam at the Rose Garden in Portland, Ore. The Ducks get about as jacked up going to the Rose Garden in December as the Illini do when they head to the United Center in Chicago.

In seven previous Pape' Jam contests, Oregon has never lost at the home of the NBA's Trail Blazers. The Ducks have beaten the likes of Kansas and Louisville at the Rose Garden.

"We get to go to a different part of the state and a bigger arena where more of our fans can go," Oregon sophomore forward Maarty Leunen said. "Always when you play in a professional arena it makes the game better."

The timing of the game could have been better for Illinois.

The Illini bused to Chicago immediately following Thursday night's 58-48 victory over Georgetown at the Assembly Hall. They were up early Friday morning for a commercial flight to Portland.

"It will be a test of their maturity to see if they can get mentally ready to play a good team that's very talented and has really good perimeter players," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said earlier in the week.

While this has been a busy week for the Illini with four games in eight days, it has been a longer week for Oregon - and not only because the Ducks were taking final exams.

Oregon has been stewing since a 71-57 home-court loss to Georgetown a week ago. That came on the heels of a 76-75 defeat at Vanderbilt when the Commodores' Mario Moore sank a game-winning 30-footer at the buzzer.

"We had a lot of breakdowns getting in transition and starting our offense," Leunen said. "We've been making little mistakes, turnovers here and there, and we're not shooting free throws very well."

Illinois handed Oregon an 83-66 loss last year at the United Center. Guard Bryce Taylor paced the Ducks with 19 points in that game.

Taylor is Oregon's second-leading scorer with an 11.5 average behind another sophomore, 6-6 swingman Malik Hairston (15.8). Junior Aaron Brooks (9.5 points, 4.5 assists) was the Ducks' most valuable player last season.

"Hairston definitely has the potential to be an NBA player," Weber said. "Taylor played really well against us, and they have a little guard (Brooks) who's quick. They're coming off a heartbreaking loss to Georgetown. I'm sure they'll be ready to go."

How ready the Illini are could be a key question.

Dee Brown was forced to play 39 minutes and James Augustine logged 37 against Georgetown. With freshman reserve guard Chester Frazier out with a tear in his thigh muscle, Illinois basically is down to an eight-man rotation.

Illinois will have played its first 10 games in a 23-day period. They've won three games by four points or less. Defense has been the Illini's trump card. Illinois allows 57.4 points per game. That would be the Illini's best since the 1984-85 squad gave up 57.2.

"Offensively we're not pretty and our flow is not great. We don't understand motion very well, the reads, the passing. It's just not there," Weber said. "Once we saw those games ahead of us, we said we're going to guard and play hard. We said it would be up and down, sometimes in the same game.

"We have some good possession offensively, but we're not consistent enough. But we have won. Almost every game is different how we win. Against Georgetown we had 21 offensive rebounds, we defended and different guys stepped up."

Illinois won't have to worry about Oregon slowing down the pace like Georgetown. With the Hoyas' Princeton-style cutting, any game against Georgetown turns into a grind-it-out affair, which the Illini found out.

Oregon has scored 75 or more points in all but one game - against Georgetown.

"That's what we're emphasizing in practice, that they (the Illini) won't slow it down. We're definitely looking forward to that. It's part of our game plan, too," said Leunen, who averages 7.2 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds.

Illinois beat Georgetown by 10 and Georgetown beat Oregon by 14. Don't expect Weber to deduce the Illini are 24 points better than Oregon.

"Georgetown controlled the whole tempo and got them out of their rhythm," Weber said. "I expect with a week off they'll have energy and try to take it to us."


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