Oregon's DBs polish up communication skills

Oregon's DBs polish up communication skills

EUGENE - Oregon cornerback Arrion Springs stepped before a throng of media in front of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex following a practice this week. 

Meanwhile, in the background, fellow-starting cornerback Ugo Amadi made a request of Springs.

"Give me a shout out," Amadi yelled while walking toward the complex entrance to the locker rooms. 

Springs smiled in response but did not oblige.

"Give me a shout out," Amadi yelled again. 

"Shout out to Ugo," Springs finally said with a wry smile.

Ah, communication. Following instructions. Such simple things that sometimes prove to be so difficult. 

That anecdote fits here only because last season, when one Oregon defensive back would shout instructions to another, it would be up in the air whether or not the information would be correct, processed correctly, relayed in a timely manner or even heard and understood.  Substitute Amadi's first request for a shout-out that went unanswered with a coverage call and you have an example of why the secondary contributed to the team allowing 35 touchdown passes last season. 

This season, however, the defensive backs have vowed to improve their communication to it more often matched Springs reaction to Amadi's second request. The No. 24 Ducks (1-0) won 53-28 on Saturday against UC Davis. Although the Ducks allowed 303 yards passing, they came on 47 attempts for a feeble average of 6.4 yards per attempt. Not a bad showing for the secondary. And it all starts with communication, something new defensive coordinator has stressed to every level of the defense. 

“All the way around, our communication has to be spot on,” Hoke said. “If not, we’re going to have a guy who’s out of a gap, or a guy who’s not fitting the run well, or whatever it might be. When we try to communicate, when we try to talk to each other, we’ve got to be really, really on point.”

That point of emphasis, defensive backs coach John Neal said, has resonated throughout the team, especially with the secondary. 

“You have to talk every play,” Neal said.

A lack of communication killed Oregon's secondary last season when they allowed 35 touchdown passes. Players either didn't know what they were doing and how to communicate that, or those in the know did a poor job of relaying information to others. 

On Saturday, the secondary appeared to take a step in the right direction. That started with the defensive backs being better versed on what their responsibilities are from play to play. 

"When you understand more, you can speak," redshirt junior safety Juwaan Williams said. 

Neal said his defensive backs certainly appear to be more confident in their knowledge. 

“That’s a confidence you get when you know what you’re doing and you’re going to talk a lot now,” Neal said.

Even after mistakes, players reacted with affirmation about what they had done wrong rather than confusion. 

“When we did mess up, they already knew what they messed up on,” Springs said.

Speaking of mistakes, Springs and Williams said there were big plays the defense gave up because of mistakes in coverage that must be cleaned up. 

"In some of the plays we gave up, there wasn't communication," Williams said. "So the communication part of it is something we're progressing and working on everyday. "

Neal said tackling still must be improved.

“I figured that we gave about 14 points away last week,” Neal said. “In order to be an elite team, you can’t do it. And we’re trying to be an elite team.”

Oregon hosts Virginia (0-1) on Saturday at Autzen. UVA quarterback Kirk Benkert completed 26-of-34 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns with one interception last week during a 37-20 loss to Richmond, an FCS program. 

Certainly not a great showing in a loss, but Benkert does have some skills and Virginia likes to throw the ball around. So the Cavaliers should provide a next-level test for UO's secondary and it's communication skills. 

Kansas' Landen Lucas faces father Richard Lucas' former team in Elite Eight

Kansas' Landen Lucas faces father Richard Lucas' former team in Elite Eight

KANSAS CITY - It finally happened during Landen Lucas' freshman year in high school. 

He took his dad in a game of one-on-one, 21-14. Took him to school by using all of the tricks of the trade his father Richard Lucas, a former star at Oregon from 1987 through 1991, has passed on to him. 

"It was a dark day," the 6-foot-6 Richard Lucas said outside of the Westin Hotel where he was staying in Kansas City. 

Landen remembers it differently. It's more of a fond memory for him, especially given that his dad never took it easy on him even as a young child.

"I wanted him to earn it," Richard said. 

Landen earned it and then some. 

"A couple of years after that, we played again - I was out of shape, that's my excuse - but I couldn't even get a shot off," Richard Lucas, 47, said. "He was so much more athletic and long and stronger."

The 6-10 Landen, who averages 7.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game while shooting 64 percent, has dominated the former Duck center ever since. On Saturday in the Elite Eight, he will try to do the same against the current Ducks in a game that will tug at the heart strings for both. 

Both Landen and his father, of course, absolutely want No. 1 Kansas (31-4) to be victorious. But that doesn't mean there won't be some strong emotions pulling them the other way, as well.

"It's a very weird thing for me," Landen said Friday at the Sprint Center. "Especially because just growing up, I always watched Oregon. Loved Oregon because of my parents and what dad was able to do there...It's a connection that was cool and all, but the second I came to Kansas it was all about Kansas, and now them being the opponent, I'm just excited about it and excited to go out and play."

--- Growing up a duckling

Landen's childhood was painted green and yellow from an early age. His father's love for Oregon permeated throughout the house, shaping his son's admiration for the Ducks. 

"Growing up I just wanted to be like him," Landen Lucas said. "I would always watch the tapes that he had...He has his highlight tape he will show me every now and then when he wants to brag a little bit. But it is fun to watch him and see what he did in college."

Richard Lucas, who appears as a panelist on CSN's Talkin' Ducks, did the dirty work for the Ducks. Rebounding. Blocking shots. Hustle plays.

"I realized very quickly that if I rebounded the basketball the coaches had a tough time not playing me," Lucas said. "Then the points came."

He passed on that work ethic to Landen. When Landen played youth games as young as age 7, his father would be there barking at him to box out and rebound.

Landen listened.

"He was able to do that for his team, and told me that if I'm able to do that at the highest level I can help any team out," Landen said. "And having a great team like we have we do with great players, I just need to do my job, the small things and that's enough for us to win."

--- Setting his own path

Lucas had an interesting high school career, starting out at Sunset for two seasons before transferring to famed Findley Prep in Henderson, Nev., (essentially a basketball factory) only to return to the Beaverton area to play at Westview, a rival of Sunset's. 

That move brought out the haters from Sunset, but that didn't impact Lucas, who had his sights set on going big time. 

Landen Lucas might have followed in his father's footsteps had the Ducks in 2012 been as good as they are now. But back then, Landen viewed Oregon under coach Dana Altman as a fledgling program that relied too heavily on transfers.  

"I wasn't sure what direction it was heading," Landen said before pointing out that UO appears to be a lot different now, a testament, he stated, to Altman's vision.

Richard Lucas hoped his son would end up at Oregon but ultimately determined that the Ducks' style of play didn't involve tossing the ball into the big man often enough to make it the right fit for Landen.

"We realized pretty quickly that the style of play at the time they were doing was a little bit different than what we were looking for," Richard Lucas said. 

Landen's career at Kansas got off to a rocky start. He redshirted as a freshman and barely played the following season.

Richard Lucas recalled when Kansas coach Bill Self told him he wanted to trade Landen as an 18-year-old for Landen as a 23-year-old fifth-year senior who was going to play a lot.

"It was hard to talk to Landen about that because kids want to play," Richard Lucas said.

Landen resisted at first but soon recognized the value in redshirting especially when he likely wouldn't have played anyway, and he could focus on developing his game and getting off to a good start academically.

Altman remembers recruiting Lucas and hoping he would indeed want to go where his father had starred. Even though that didn't work out, Altman said he's happy for Lucas and how he has developed his game since redshirting. 

"It also shows his perseverance, you know, it didn't start out well for him, the redshirt and he didn't get to play much the first couple of years," Altman said. "But he stayed with it and, you know, it speaks to his character."

Altman pointed out that a lot of young players look to transfer when they don't become instant starts, let alone are asked to redshirt.  

"We're really happy for him, great guy, great family," Altman said. "His dad is a great guy. Really happy for him. I hope he doesn't play well tomorrow, but he's had a heck of a career."

Self said he recruited Landen with the idea of him being a good “program guy.” Instead, he got much more.

“All he did was come in and start for three years, basically, and has become probably as an important part of our program as anybody we've had,” Self said. “You hate to look at a team over the last three years and say, why would you be without him and the answer would be not very good.”

Before each game Richard will give Landed a pep talk and notes on what to watch for based on having watched the opponent. After games they would debrief to go over what happens.

"He is so smart that that's less and less," Richard Lucas said. "He knows what he did wrong and what he can do better."

Landen said he takes his father’s advice to heart.

"I try to take his advice and listen to him, good or bad because I know that he knows what he is talking about," Landen said.

Clearly Richard Lucas’ schooling of his son paid off.

“He's been a real pleasure to coach, and he's very, very bright.” Self said. “He gets it. He gets the big picture. Certainly he has grown so much since he's been here.”

--- The chase for 18 rebounds and beyond.

Richard’s career-high 18 rebounds against Stanford in 1991 remains a point of contention between father and son. He elder Lucas has held that number over Landen his entire college career, challenging him to tie or beat it.

Landen did just that. Sort of. 

Landen Lucas, who had 12 rebounds once as a redshirt sophomore, 16 in a game as a redshirt junior and 17 earlier this season, finally grabbed 18 on Feb. 24 during a 92-89 win over Iowa State.

However, that win came in overtime. The key word being "overtime."

"Doesn't count, sorry!" Richard Lucas said. "Sorry. I mean, come on."

The elder Lucas points out that Landen got three of his 18 rebounds in overtime. So, according to dad, he still holds the family record. 

When asked about it, Landen just shook his head. 

"He's not counting that," he said with a laugh. "I've got to get to at least 18 or more so I can shut him up so he won't talk about it anymore."

When told of that declaration, Richard just laughed.

"You know what, he's been trying for years," he said. "He's. Been. Trying. For. Years. To do that. So, we'll see."

--- Beating Oregon.

The goal is to win on Saturday. Elation would follow. A twinge of pain for both Lucas men would still exist.

“Landen and I talked briefly last night about the situation,” Self said. “He's a big fan of the Ducks not only because he grew up in Portland but because his father played there and was a good player there. So there's pride there about that with his family.”

But that pride factor has shifted. Dad will be wearing Kansas gear. But he admits that he won’t be able to view Oregon as a faceless opponent. Meanwhile, Landen has no choice.

“He told me last night, he said, ‘Coach, I've seen 'em play at least 15 times this year,’” Self said.  “Which he wouldn't be watching any other teams from the Pac-12 play that amount of time unless there was a vested interest with his father. We'll talk about it. We'll talk about it, but he has a lot of respect for back home.”

He has more respect for his goals. The team’s goals. What is at stake. Oregon will have other chances to reach the Final Four. This is Landen’s final shot. And the Ducks, albeit a program he and his father love, stands in the way.

"This is what I stuck it out for,” he said, “and really what motived me earlier in my career."

Oregon's Chris Boucher is devastated but supportive

Oregon's Chris Boucher is devastated but supportive

KANSAS CITY - Oregon senior forward Chris Boucher expected to be an integral part of the Ducks' run at a Final Four appearance. 

His shot blocking, rebounding, inside and outside scoring prowess figured to help UO make such a run. Then, it all came crashing down for Boucher while attempting to block a shot against California during the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament two weekends ago in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The next day, Boucher was ruled out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. He since has been relegated to cheerleader while the No. 3 Ducks (32-5) have carved out a path to the Elite Eight where they will face No. 1 Kansas (31-4) on Saturday night. 

"Well, it's been hard for sure, but seeing my team getting into the tournament and all covers for it a little bit," Boucher said today during media availability at the Sprint Center. "You always want to be on the floor and play. Definitely hurts sometimes to watch them do it so good and you can't do anything about it."

Senior guard Dylan Ennis can relate. He missed virtually all of last season with a foot injury that forced him to watch Oregon reach the Elite Eight without him. 

"As a senior, I know how hard it is and lucky I got my year back, but him going through this his senior year he's been a big part of this and especially with him on the bench he's so encouraging and he's taken that role as being the next coach, that positive reinforcement," Ennis said. "So everything he is doing we can't be more grateful for him."

Oregon lost the Pac-12 Tournament championship game to Arizona without Boucher, but has won three NCAA Tournament games since. Still, it's obvious that the Ducks miss his 11.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots per game. Losing him has placed more pressure on junior forward Jordan Bell to protect the rim. 

"We lost our advantage with the blocks with Chris," Altman said. "We were averaging almost seven blocks a game with him, and I think in the four games without him now I think we have eight total. So Jordan has become a little less aggressive with his blocks, trying to stay out of foul trouble. He's done a great job of picking up rebounding. Chris was our second leading rebounder and third leading scorer besides being the guy who blocked the most shots. Defensively we've slipped. Our numbers in the last four games are not as good as they were previous to him going down. So we've tried to make up for that a little bit offensively."

To do what he can, Boucher said he watches games intently looking for details he can pass on to teammates. 

"I'm just trying to help my team and tell them what I could see from the bench and they could go from there," Boucher said.

It's something, but not what Boucher and Ducks had planned for his role to be during this this time of the season. 

Oregon takes a huge step up in competition against No. 1 Kansas

Oregon takes a huge step up in competition against No. 1 Kansas

KANSAS CITY - Oregon will face a different NCAA Tournament animal in the Midwest Region semifinals Saturday night. 

No. 1 Kansas is more talented, more tournament experienced and more dominant than any team UO has faced this season, let alone in the this tournament. 

Oregon needed two late threes from Tyler Dorsey to survive Rhode Island, 75-72 in the second round, and on Thursday night watched as a would-be buzzer beater from Michigan banged off of the rim allowing the Ducks to escape with a 69-68 win over the Wolverines. 

Through three tournament games, counting a 93-77 win over No. 14 Iona in the first round, Oregon has outscored its opponents 237 to 217. 

On the other side, Kansas has dominated its three opponents, No. 16 UC Davis (100-62), No. 9 Michigan State (90-70) and No. 4 Purdue (98-66) by a combined count of 288 to 198. 

The latter outing came here at the Sprint Center where the crowd was at least 80 percent pro Kansas. 

One one hand, it would appear that Kansas is just too dominant for Oregon. On the other hand, if Saturday's game is close, the Ducks will have been more battle tested. 

"If we're going to get there then we're going to have to sweat one out," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "We know that. Tomorrow will be a highly competitive game, we believe, regardless of the situation. We've been fortunate that we've played pretty consistently well throughout the tournament, but it's going to take another effort like that to put ourselves in a position to have a chance to advance. I'm sure Dana (Altman) is saying the same thing to his guys as well."

A quick look at the game:

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 1 Kansas

Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo. 

When: 5:45 p.m., Thursday.

TV: TBS

Records: Ducks (32-5), Jayhawks (31-4).

Last outings: Oregon pulled out a 69-68 win over No. 7 Michigan on Thursday. Kansas dominated No. 4 Purdue in the second game, 98-66. 

Coaches: UO's Dana Altman (186-69 at Oregon, 596-312 Division I). Kansas' Bill Self (413-85 at Kansas at Rhode Island, 620-190 overall)

Key Ducks: Dillon Brooks, F, Jr. (16.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 41.2 3pt%), Jordan Bell, F, Jr. (10.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 76 blocks); Tyler Dorsey, G, Soph. (14.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 41.4 3pt%), Dylan Ennis, G, Sr., (10.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.1 apg).

Key Jayhawks: Frank Mason III, G, Sr. (20.9 ppg, 5.2 apg, 4.2 rpg, 48 3pt%); Josh Jackson, G, Fr. (16.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg); Devonte' Graham, G, Jr., (13.7 ppg, 4.2 apg), Landen Lucas, C, Sr. (7.9 ppg., 8.4 rpg).

Notes: NBADraft.Net projects Kansas' Jackson as the No. 1-overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft...Oregon's Brooks, Bell and senior forward Chris Boucher are projected to be second-round picks... This is Oregon's sixth appearance in the Elite Eight and fourth since 2002. They made it in 1939, 1960, 2002, 2007, 2016 and 2017... Oregon this season set a school record with 32 wins. Kansas (31-4) and Villanova (32-4) are the only two other programs with 30 wins ore more. 

Kansas coach Bill Self laments missing out on Oregon guard Tyler Dorsey

Kansas coach Bill Self laments missing out on Oregon guard Tyler Dorsey

KANSAS CITY - Oregon sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey has been tearing up the postseason for the Ducks, who face Kansas Saturday in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. 

His play has served as a reminder to Kansas coach Bill Self of a good one that got away. No. 1 Kansas (31-4) recruited the former five-star recruit out of Pasadena, Calif., hard and even had him in for a visit. Yet, Dorsey chose No. 3 Oregon (32-5) in the end. 

"We wanted Tyler, bad," Self said today at the Sprint Center. "I just thought he was a guard that could play on the ball and off the ball and certainly that's played out to be 100% accurate. He's a point guard that can shoot and score. He's a terrific kid. We really liked him. A lot. Unfortunately he didn't like us as much as we liked him. But it turned out to be what great choice he made! Turned out to be perfect from him, at least from the outside looking in."

Dorsey during the postseason is averaging 23 points per game and is shooting 61.2 percent from the field. Oregon could need him to remain hot if it expects to get past Kansas and into the Final Four. 

Self said Oregon has an abundance of shooters that make the Ducks dangerous. "You've got one in particular, that's probably the hottest player in the tournament shooting the ball in Tyler Dorsey," he added.

Oregon's resolve, guile and heart deserve admiration after 69-68 win over Michigan

Oregon's resolve, guile and heart deserve admiration after 69-68 win over Michigan

KANSAS CITY - Oregon senior guard Dylan Ennis put his head down in disappointment after missing his second front end of one-and-one free throw attempts in the final two minutes Thursday night, the latter coming with the Ducks leading 69-68 over Michigan at the Sprint Center. 

Ennis felt deflated, knowing that having made the first of his second one-and-one attempt would have given his team a two-point lead with 15 seconds remaining in the game. Making two at the end would have put the No. 3 Ducks up three. 

"I went straight over to him," Oregon junior guard Casey Benson said, describing how he offered Ennis encouragement.

But Ennis, a 74.8 percent free throw shooter, didn't need much of a pep talk. He knew he had to find a way to make amends with Michigan having one final chance at pulling out a victory. 

Ennis, as it turned out, ended up on Michigan senior guard Derrick Walton Jr.   Ennis made it difficult on Walton, a deft penetrator who ultimately settled for a deep jumper that banged off the rim at the buzzer. Ducks win, 69-68 to advance to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season. 

"If they hit that shot, it's on you," Ennis said, "and I didn't want to live with that for the rest of my life. So I dug in."

Oregon (32-5) has made digging in a habit this postseason. When this season comes to a close - national champions, or not - these Oregon Ducks should be remembered for their guts, guile and heart. All three have carried them through no matter what obstacles stand in their way. Some have been created by their own doing. Some have come about because of bad luck. Others were the result of strong play from a worthy opponent, such as Michigan.

"The team with the most heart won," UO forward Dillon Brooks said. 

That Oregon, which will face No. 1 Kansas on Saturday, made it this far is not shocking. But that they have twice overcome being eliminated by finding a way win over and over has been impressive. The Ducks, minus star forward Chris Boucher (knee) this postseason, easily could have lost in the second to Rhode Island, but pulled out a 75-72 lead thanks to shutting down the Rams over the final few minutes and getting two huge three-point shots from sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey. 

Several clutch plays defined Thursday night's win. No. 7 Michigan (26-12) led 68-65 when Ennis missed his first front end of a one-and-one. That could have proven to be devastating. But junior forward Jordan Bell slithered his way underneath Michigan's big men to gather the rebound and put it back in with a reverse layup to make the score 68-67. 

After the game, Ennis joked that he owed Bell dinner for "saving his life." Bell joked that his teammate certainly owed him something. But most of all, several of Oregon's players said that that's just how they do things. As a team. Having one another's backs. Picking one another up. Remaining strong. 

"We were just playing tough," Brooks said. "Teams are going to go up and we're going to go down. But we're not going to get discouraged."

After one of the team's three defensive stops over the final two minutes, Dorsey ended up with the ball and Oregon down 68-67. He fiercely grinded his way to get off a shot. Driving left. Getting stopped. Faking. Spinning. Getting his defender into the air. Then he smoothly floated in a layup for the lead. 

"Do whatever you can to win," Bell said. 

Michigan was labeled as the team of destiny after experiencing a minor plane crash earlier this month prior to the start of the postseason. Maybe now it's Oregon that has some of that destiny stuff working for it right about now. 

"It's just exciting to move on to the next game and have another opportunity to go to the Final Four," Benson said. 

The Ducks were blasted last season by Oklahoma in the Elite Eight during that attempt to reach the Final Four. They weren't quite ready for that level of play. Saturday against Kansas will be very difficult. Its fan base has taken over the Sprint Center and it helped propel the Jayhawks to a 98-66 win over No. 4 Purdue. 

The Ducks will need every bit of their defensive prowess and the tenacity they displayed Thursday night to get through that game. 

"That's what kind of defense we need for 40 minutes," Brooks said. "The offense will come. Tonight it didn't."

Oregon in many ways is inferior to Kansas. Missing Boucher could really finally catch up with the Ducks on Saturday.

"I feel really bad for Chris, just because it's tearing him up," UO coach Dana Altman said. "He wants to be out there so bad, help his teammates.

The Ducks might go down Saturday. But it won't be without a fight. And it won't be because they lacked the heart to stand in there, take big blows and fire back with desire. 

Oregon returns to regional finals after 69-68 win over Michigan

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USA Today

Oregon returns to regional finals after 69-68 win over Michigan

Oregon 69, Michigan 68 

How Oregon won: No. 3 Oregon (32-5) once again found a way late in a NCAA Tournament game to pull out a narrow victory and advance, winning 69-68 over No. 7 Michigan (26-12) Thursday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. 

Oregon sophomore guard, the hero in the team's second-round win over Rhode Island, made a three-foot shot to give UO a 69-68 lead with 1:09 remaining, and the Ducks got stops on Michigan's final three possessions over the final two minutes and change to earn the win. 

Michigan guard Derrick Walton Jr. missed a jump shot from 18 feet out at the buzzer.

Michigan attempted 31 three-point shots, making just 11. The Wolverines made 14 of 27 two-point field goals. Michigan coach John Bielein said there were several threes his team shouldn't have taken but also added that the Wolverines were mindful of Oregon forward Jordan Bell's defensive prowess inside. 

Oregon shot 44.8 percent from the field. Michigan made 43.1 percent of its shots and committed just one turnover in the second half after committing seven in the first half. The Ducks only turned the ball over five times all game. 

What it means: Oregon advances to the regional finals for the second consecutive season. Oregon last year lost 80-68 to Oklahoma in the West Regional finals in Anaheim, Calif. 

Key sequence: Oregon led 60-55 after senior guard Dylan Ennis hit a jump shot with 5:10 remaining. Michigan, however, answered with back-to-back three pointers. First D.J. Wilson made one from 24 feet out off an assist from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. Dorsey then missed a jumper for Oregon setting up a three from Derrick Walton Jr. from 27 feet out to give the Wolverines a 61-60 lead with 4:15 remaining in the game, and causing UO coach Dana Altman to call a timeout.

The talking to worked. Dorsey came out of the timeout and got a three from the corner from to make the score 63-61, UO. But then, Irvin came back for Michigan with a three to give the Wolverines a 64-63 lead. 

Michigan led 68-65 with 1:49 remaining when Ennis missed the front end of a one-and-one. But Bell got the offensive rebound and scored to make the score 68-67, Michigan. 

Some 40 seconds later, Dorsey hit what proved to be the game-winner. 

High-flying Ducks: Dorsey finished with 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting and made five of his seven three-point attempts. 

Bell had 16 points and 13 rebounds. 

Ennis gave the Ducks 10 points, five rebounds and three assists. Oregon junior forward Dillon Brooks had a relatively quiet night scoring 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting. However, he added four rebounds and five assists. 

Fowl play: UO junior forward Kavell Bigby-Williams only gave the Ducks one points and two rebounds in eight minutes of action. 

Up next: Oregon will play the winner of tonight's second game between No. 1 Kansas and No. 4 Purdue on Saturday. 

Oregon was rooting for Michigan, "until now"

Oregon was rooting for Michigan, "until now"

KANSAS CITY - Oregon players couldn't help but become Michigan fans after the Wolverines were involved in a minor plane crash three weeks ago that shook up the players but also has partially propelled them into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. 

"We've all been cheering them on," UO junior forward Jordan Bell said today during media availability at the Sprint Center. "We understand that going through a thing like that can really bring a lot of heart and passion out of people, so we've just been rooting for them."

Bell also added an "up until now," while talking about No. 7 Michigan, which is undefeated since the plane incident and now finds itself up against No. 3 Oregon (31-5) at 4:09 p.m. on Thursday. 

The story of the NCAA Tournament thus far revolves around Michigan (26-11) and its harrowing experience while on a plane taking the team to the Big Ten tournament in Washington, D.C. on Mar. 8.  Facing high winds while attempting to take off from Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Mich., the pilots aborted takeoff but ended up skidding off of the runway and crashing into a field. Nobody was injured but the event left the team a bit shaken up, according to reports.

Michigan went on to win the Big Ten Tournament and upset No. 2 Louisville in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to earn a trip to the Midwest Regional semifinals. Because of its story, some have dubbed Michigan as a "team of destiny."

"I think definitely an experience like that would bring you that much closer together, realizing what is important in the grand scheme of things," Oregon junior guard Casey Benson said. "Definitely they have carried that since that happened into the postseason. They're playing at a high level with a lot of confidence, so we've got to match the intensity."

The Michigan admiration, however, only goes so far. UO junior forward Dillon Brooks said the Wolverines' story wouldn't impact Thursday's game. 

"It's a great story and it's a great thing for that program," he said. "We all hear about it but it's just another team in front of us...I see a team in front of me. I know these guys see the same thing. They don't see no destiny. They don't see the crazy thing that happened to them. We just go out there and play our game and play hard. Those guys are talented guys and they play well together. They're playing well for each other and we have to crush that and not give them easy baskets."

The Wolverines were actually on a roll before the plane incident and have now won 12 of their last 14 games. They are led by senior guards Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin who attack the basket, shoot well from outside and don't turn over the ball very often. In fact, the Wolverines average just 9.2 turnovers per game. Oregon likes to be disruptive on defense in order to create bad shots and turnovers that lead to fast breaks. Accomplishing that through forced turnovers won't be easy against Michigan.  

"Being active on defense is going to be key for us," UO sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey said. "We must have active hands. That's going to be key for us in getting deflections and getting steals. Speeding them up and getting them out of their tempo and what they want to run."

Where Oregon could have a huge advantage is in the rebounding department. Michigan averages just 29.2 rebounds per game compared to 36.5 for Oregon.  Sophomore forward Moritz Wagner (6-foot-11) lit up Louisville for 26 points in the last round, but he gave the Wolverines just three rebounds. Wagner averages just 4.1 per game. The 6-10 D.J. Wilson leads the team at 5.3. 

For these reasons, Brooks said that the Ducks could cause more of a matchup problem for Michigan inside than vice versa despite UO not having senior forward Chris Boucher (knee injury) and his 6.1 rebounds per game. Bell averages 8.3 and 6-10 junior Kavell Bigby-Williams can crash the boards when he isn't in foul trouble. 

"Nobody in the Big Ten has a team like ours," Brooks said. "We're versatile, unselfish, a team that loves each other and plays for each other and I feel like we're going to give them a lot of fits...They've got a little size but I feel like me, Jordan and Kavell will hold our own. They've got to guard us. They've probably never guarded no one like Jordan, or like me, or like Velley."

Both teams are playing well. Both teams have earned the right to be here. Which team advances will come down to which team seizes the moment. 

"They got hot at the right time and their playing with a lot of confidence, and we've got to match that confidence," Dorsey said. 

Most of the country will probably be rooting for Michigan, given its backstory that Benson and Bell said caused them to root for the Wolverines. UO coach Dana Altman, however, said he hasn't had time to pull for anyone other than his own team. 

"I do think it's a great story though and how coach (John) Beilein says they have bonded and it's made them much closer," Altman said. "That is a unique story."

It's one that only can continue at Oregon's expense. 

Oregon could be in trouble against hot Michigan

Oregon could be in trouble against hot Michigan

Oregon's narrow 75-72 win over Rhode Island in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday certainly provided plenty of thrills and chills. 

That Tyler Dorsey sure is a clutch shooter. 

The win also provided something else. An "uo oh," or two, for anyone not caught up in the euphoria of watching the Ducks barely slip past a team from the Atlantic 10 Conference.  On the other side of the Midwest Region bracket, the No. 7 Michigan Wolverines were taking care of No. 2 Louisville a week after winning the Big Ten Tournament championship. Michigan has now won 12 of 14 games to overcome a 14-9 start to the season.

Oregon faces Michigan on Thursday. 

"They've got a lot of guys that can shoot the three," Altman said Tuesday in Eugene. "They've got a lot of guys that can put the ball on the floor. They will be a lot to handle, defensively... We know we're going to have to be at our best defensively to try and slow them down a little bit."

Altman said he watched Michigan play on video earlier this season while scouting UCLA. The Bruins dominated the Wolverines, 102-84 on Dec. 10 in Los Angeles, Calif.  Back then, Michigan was struggling to find its footing. The Wolverines followed the loss to UCLA by winning three straight against the likes of Central Arkansas, Maryland-Eastern Shore and Furman. Then Big Ten conference play began and Michigan lost six of its next 10 games. 

Since then, however, the Wolverines have been a different team. Consider that on Jan. 29, Michigan lost 70-62 at Michigan State near the end of the 10-game stretch to start conference play. On Feb. 7, the Wolverines destroyed the Spartans, 86-57 at home to start Michigan's current stretch of winning 12 out of its last 14. 

"They're running their stuff really good, now," Altman said. 

The key catalyst for Michigan has been senior guard, Derrick Watson Jr., averaging 15.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. He will lead an offense that is sure to challenge the Ducks inside, where they have become vulnerable without 6-foot-10 senior forward Chris Boucher, out for the season with a knee injury. 

"It's going to be a tough game," Altman said. "It's a tough matchup for us. We haven't been as good in the paint. People know that. We've been exposed there a little bit without Chris. Our number of blocked shots, our change shots are way down. So, people are going to attack us."

The Ducks and Wolverines hold media availability today. 

A quick look at the game:

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan

Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo. 

When: 4:09 p.m., Thursday.

TV: CBS

Records: Ducks (31-5), Wolverines (26-11).

Last outings: Oregon escaped the second round with a 73-72 win over No. 11 Rhode Island. Michigan pulled off a massive tournament upset with a 73-69 win over No. 2 Louisville (25-9).

Coaches: UO's Dana Altman (185-69 at Oregon, 594-312 Division I). Michigan's John Beilein (215-134 at Michigan at Rhode Island, 691-409 overall)

Key Ducks: Dillon Brooks, F, Jr. (16.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 40.9 3pt%); Jordan Bell, F, Jr. (10.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 74 blocks);  Tyler Dorsey, G, Soph. (14 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 40.2 3pt%), Dylan Ennis, G, Sr., (10.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.1 apg).

Key Wolverines: Derrick Walton Jr., G, Sr. (15.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.9 apg.); Zak Irvin, G, Sr. (12.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.0 apg.); Moritz Wagner, F, So., (12.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg), D.J. Wilson, F, Jr., (11.0 ppg., 5.3 rpg).

Notes: The Ducks are 0-4 all-time against UM, ranked No. 24 in the AP Poll.... Michigan won the only postseason meeting between these two teams, 78-53 during the 2004 NIT...The Wolverines won the last meeting, 70-63 on Nov. 24, 2014... 

 

Do Something: 1 on 1 with Willie Taggart airs Wednesday on CSN

Do Something: 1 on 1 with Willie Taggart airs Wednesday on CSN

Earlier this month, CSN caught up with new Oregon coach Willie Taggart in his office at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. 

We spent 80 minutes with Taggart discussing a myriad of topics. A lot has happened with the football program since Taggart took over last December. The result of our conversation is a one-hour special called "Do Something: 1 on 1 with Willie Taggart."

It will air at 7 p.m., Wednesday on CSN.

Subjects discussed include:

  • Bringing down the hammer and letting the team know that discipline will be restored. 
  • Finding and developing leaders.
  • Fixing the lack of harmony among the players. 
  • The formation of the new coaching staff. 
  • The challenges of recruiting to Eugene and recruiting philosophies.
  • Rebounding from the controversy surrounding the hospitalization of three players following a workout. 
  • The arrest of former co-offensive coordinator David Reaves for DUI, and his departure.
  • The challenges of fixing the defense that coordinator Jim Leavitt will tackle.  
  • Is there enough talent to win in 2016 or is the cupboard bare? 
  • Could someone really challenge Justin Herbert for the starting quarterback position?

And much more... 

Be sure to tune in for the most candid and in-depth interview Taggart has given to date.