Oregon fulfills Final Four dreams through steely resolve

Oregon fulfills Final Four dreams through steely resolve

KANSAS CITY - The sting of losing to Oklahoma in last year's West Regional finals lingered for Oregon Saturday night against Kansas in the Midwest Regional finals at the Sprint Center. The pain served as reminder to these Ducks. Motivated them. Made them stronger.  Convinced them they had to do whatever was necessary to avoid such devastation from happening again. 

So despite not having a key cog in senior forward Chris Boucher (knee), despite being an underdog to a No. 1 Kansas team with arguably more raw talent accustomed to destroying opponents, and despite facing the Jayhawks in an arena just 45 minutes from Kansas' campus and filled with fans wearing blue and red, the Oregon Ducks rose to the challenge and did the improbable, winning 74-60 to earn the program's first trip to the Final Four since 1939.

"Best moment ever," UO forward Jordan Bell said. "Only thing that could top this is winning the national championship."

Saturday was, without a doubt, a monumental night not only for UO's basketball program but also for the athletic department as a whole. Oregon has tasted great success in many different sports during the past two decades, but always seemed to be one step behind the major powers when it came to men's basketball.

Three times in the last 15 years (2002, 2007 and 2016) the Ducks had failed to cash in on Elite Eight appearances, including last season when the UO lost 80-68 to Oklahoma in Anaheim, Calif. Oklahoma's veteran team played with far more confidence and continuity than Oregon that night. The Ducks knew it.

"That feeling in the locker room last year knowing you were so close to the Final Four, where you wanted to get to, we don’t want to feel that again,” UO junior forward Casey Benson said. 

But rather than run from that disappointment, the No. 3 Ducks (33-5) embraced it, redirected it and transformed it into rocket fuel that had them flying high with confidence all night against Kansas, shocking the 18,663 in attendance. 

“That was always in the back of our minds - Oklahoma,” junior forward Dillon Brooks said.

Added Bell": “It helped us out so much."  

UO coach Dana Altman sensed his team's laser-like focus following the Ducks' 69-68 win over Michigan Thursday night in the Sweet 16. It contrasted last year's reaction to defeating famed Duke in the same round. 

 "First of all, we felt so good after beating Duke and we patted ourselves on the backs so much that we didn't have that edge when we played Oklahoma," Altman said.

Altman saw a different demeanor from his team after a narrow victory over the Wolverines.

"I was real happy when I came in [the locker room] after the Michigan game and we weren't celebrating," Altman said. "We were focused on, we got one more game here. So I thought maybe the experience of a year ago maybe helped us."

The Ducks' defense was ferocious on Saturday. Bell had eight blocked shots and altered about a dozen others while the perimeter defenders rarely allowed good looks for Kansas, which shot 20 percent from three-point range, including 1 of 15 in the second half. The Jayhawks shot 35 percent overall. 

On offense, the Ducks faced a tough defense but time after time found a way to stick a huge jumper or get a big offensive rebound which lead to 13 second-chance points. 

Leading the offense's charge was sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey, who continued his amazing postseason play with 27 points on 9 of 13 shooting, including 6 of 10 from three-point range. 

But this win wasn't as much about statistics as it was about how much Oregon appeared to be in command of its nerves, emotions and focus in such a hostile environment swirling with intense pressure. 

The Ducks simply didn't care what the fans did, or what Kansas tried to do. And early on, they knew they could shock the college basketball world against a team that dismantled its first three NCAA Tournament opponents by a combined count of 288 to 198.

“When we were hitting shots and we were playing defense and not letting them score, we knew that it was possible,” Brooks said.

Each positive moment raised the team's confidence and put the Kansas fans into shock mode. They cheered with every sign of life from the Jayhawks only to be settled down with each Oregon response. 

“As a road team, essentially, that was big," said Benson, who scored on an amazing finger roll play in the first half. "Obviously we didn’t want to let the crowd get into it.”

Helping to propel Oregon were public slights here and there. 

“Guys over at CBS were saying that we’re nothing and we have no defense without Chris Boucher and we disproved that today by locking in on one of the best offensive teams in the country,” Brooks said.

This quest began immediately after last season when Bell met with Altman. 

“I made a promise to coach Altman that I was going to get him to the Final Four before I left, so I had to just play my butt off,” Bell said. 

His belief came from the emotions the team displayed after last season. 

“I saw the players we had and the determination we had and I saw the hurt form losing last year,” Bell said.  “I knew we had it.”

Brooks made the same promise to Altman.  

“We wanted to win the Pac-12 and we did, then we wanted more,” Brooks said. “We got hungry. We got a little greedy.”

They got a little edgy. 

No maybe about it. That experience last season brought the team together and it showed on Saturday. 

“Playing for one another and playing for coach we’re going to Final Four… ” Benson said. “Coming in we were a confident bunch and we all really like each other.”

Oregon swats away No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, advances to Final Four

Oregon swats away No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, advances to Final Four

Oregon 74, Kansas 60 

How Oregon won: No. 3 Oregon (33-5) shot the lights out all night and played spirited and aggressive defense against No. 1 Kansas (31-5) to stun the mostly pro-Jayhwks crowd of 18,643 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., and win 74-60 to advance to the Final Four in Phoenix, Ariz.

Oregon got off to a fantastic start shooting 60 percent in the first half including 7 of 12 from three-point range. That led to a 44-33 lead at the break. The Ducks closed the half with two three-point baskets from sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey. One bounced off the rim, went straight up then back down and in. The other came from straight away deep and went off the backboard at the buzzer. 

Dorsey had 14 in the first half, senior guard Dylan Ennis had 10 and junior forward Dillon Brooks scored 9. Maybe the best performance of the half came from junior forward Jordan Bell, who had four points, eight rebounds and blocked four shots that set the tone on defense. 

Kansas shot 42.9 percent in the first half and were hurt considerably by the foul trouble that Josh Jackson found himself in early on. It disrupted his flow and he finished with zero points after shooting just one shot. Frank Mason III carried the Jayhawks in the first half with 17. 

The great play on offense by UO fell off a bit in the second half but the Ducks' defense did not. Bell put fear into the hearts of every Kansas player that entred the paint with eight blocked shots that ultimately led to countless other altered shots for the Jayhawks. 

On offense, whenever Kansas even remotely looked like it could get back into the game, someone on Oregon made a big play to push the Jayhawks back. 

What it means: Oregon advances to the Final Four for the first time since 1939 when the Ducks last won a national title. 

Key sequence: Kansas got the deficit down to 61-51 in the second half and turned up the heat on defense. After moving the ball around a bit, it ended up in the hands of Dorsey, who starred down his defender and nailed a three-pointer to make the score 64-51, UO. As Dorsey ran back on defense he put one finger to his lips to tell the pro-Kansas crowd to "shush." 

Kansas cut its deficit down to 64-55 but then Ennis scored on a layup to give UO a 66-55 lead. 

Kansas later got a three from forward Svi Mykhailiuk to make it 66-60, UO with 2:49 remaining. Then KU seemingly had a defensive stop working when the shot clock ran down on UO forcing Dorsey to throw up a desperation shot. Kansas, however, failed to get the rebound and the ball landed in Bell's hands. Seconds later, Dorsey cranked up a three to go up 69-60 with 1:41 remaining. 

That was pretty much that. 

High-flying Ducks: Dorsey ended with 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting and had five rebounds. Bell gave the Ducks 11 points and 13 rebounds to go along with his eight blocked shots. 

Brooks scored 17 while making 7 of 18 shots. 

Up next:  Oregon will take on the winner of Sunday's South Region finals game between No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Kentucky in next Saturday's Final Four. 

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 Tyler Dorsey, 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. 

Tyler Dorsey to the rescue as Oregon escapes upset bid by Rhode Island

Tyler Dorsey to the rescue as Oregon escapes upset bid by Rhode Island

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - By now, running a heat check on Oregon sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey could result in someone getting singed. 

He is on fire. No doubt. And the Ducks are fortunate that he is, otherwise their season would have come to an end Sunday night at the Golden 1 Center. 

Dorsey's two three-pointers in the final two minutes, respectively, tied No. 11-seed Rhode Island and gave the No. 3 Ducks a 75-72 lead with 38 seconds remaining that Oregon (31-5) held on to, advancing to the Sweet 16 where they will face No. 7 Michigan (26-11) on Thursday in Kansas City, Mo.

Those two clutch plays by Dorsey only tell half of the story. Granted, the most important half. Nevertheless, his night was defined by too many clutch moments to name them all. 

Time and time again he made plays to keep UO in this game while teammates, junior forward Dillon Brooks, senior guard Dylan Ennis and freshman guard Payton Pritchard, scuffled. The Ducks trailed 46-38 at halftime with Dorsey only getting off three shots, all good. In the second half he made 6 of 7 field goal attempts to finish with a game-high 27 points. His three aforementioned pals made a combined 9 of 32 attempts on the night. 

"Super big," Brooks said of Dorsey's impact. "He was attacking the rim and making threes. He was keeping us in the game and towards the end me, Dylan and Payton started making plays to help us out."

Those "help" plays mostly came on defense and when rebounding, helping to set up Dorsey on offense. An Ennis play on the ball to keep it alive following a Brooks' miss late led to Jordan Bell getting the ball. It ultimately went to Dorsey, who made a three-pointer with 1:46 remaining to tie the game at 72-72. On the game-winner, Dorsey sized up his defender from beyond the top of they key, thought about driving but then pulled up for a pure jumper that rang true for the lead over the Rams (25-10). 

Dorsey deflected credit for his great play. 

"It's just my teammates," he said. "They've been finding me, and all I've been doing is spotting up and making the simple play and the right play, the right basketball play. Like Coach always says, keep my focus first on defense and rebounding and the offense, let it come. That's all I've been doing these last couple games and my teammates have been having confidence in me and I've been knocking down the shots."

Dorsey had an erratic regular season that saw him make three or fewer field goals in 14 games. During the postseason, however, he has taken his game to another level. 

Over three games in the Pac-12 Tournament, Dorsey made 24 of 42 shots (57 percent) while averaging 22.3 points per game. In two NCAA Tournament games, he is shooting 18 of 23 (78 percent) while averaging 25.5 per game. His total postseason numbers are: 42 of 65 (64.6 percent) and averaging 23.6 points per game. He's also tossed in 20 rebounds, nine assists and seven steals

"I think the biggest factor is Tyler is a player," UO coach Dana Altman said. "He's not just a scorer. I thought for a while he locked in on his offense and we weren't getting him the ball enough for a period in the season and that was my fault...When he's playing as a player, not just a scorer, I think that's when he really comes alive. I mentioned that in the conference tournament. He starts the first game, he gets 9 rebounds. Against Cal, his defensive effort saved us. I just think when he's thinking about himself being a player, the rest of his game comes. He doesn't focus just on that missed shot or a bad play."

On the final three-point shot, Dorsey said he saw a big man covering him and that his hands never came up as he protected against the drive. 

"His hands never came up and I let it go, but if his hands would have came up I probably would have thought about driving," Dorsey said. "That's how I was thinking through that process."

Altman liked the decision made by Dorsey on both critical shots. 

"I thought he made a really good read on it," Altman said. "I yelled at him to shoot it because I saw his hands down and I saw his feet were right. The other one right in front of the bench, I was, you know, I said, "hit it buddy." And the one, I saw his feet were right and the guy's hands were right and I was yelling at him to shoot it because I thought it was the right play."

Dorsey has made the right play over and over for UO. If he keeps it up, the Ducks just might overcome the loss of Chris Boucher and make a serious run at the Final Four. 

Tyler Dorsey lifts Oregon over Rhode Island, 75-72, and into Sweet 16

Tyler Dorsey lifts Oregon over Rhode Island, 75-72, and into Sweet 16

Oregon 75, Rhode Island 72 

How Oregon won: No. 3 Oregon (31-5) came back from a double-digit deficit in the second half to win on a three-pointer from sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey with 38 seconds remaining Sunday at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif. 

No. 11 Rhode Island (25-10) received great performances from guards Stanford Robinson (21 points) and Jared Terrell (15) to take 46-38 at halftime and led by 11 in the second half.

But the Ducks kept chipping away at their deficit before taking a lead late only to watch the Rams come back.

After Dorsey's three, Oregon made two stops as a desperate Rhode Island team fired up bad three-point attempts.

Rhode Island shot 51 percent from the field. Oregon shot 48 percent.  

What it means: Oregon advances to the Sweet 16 in Kansas City, Mo.

Key sequence: In the first half, UO forward Dillon Brooks gave UO a 25-18 lead on a tip in of a missed three-point attempt from freshman guard Payton Pritchard.

However, Brooks had something to say to the Rams' defenders and received a technical foul. E.C. Matthews made both free throws for Rhode Island to make the score 25-20.

After the game, Brooks said he yelled, "This is a big man's game."

Oregon pushed its lead to 30-22 with 6:36 remaining and then Rhode Island took control. A 10-4 run by the Rams made the score 34-32, UO. Later, Robinson hit a three to give the Rams a 37-36 lead that eventually grew to 46-38 at halftime. 

In the second half, the Ducks looked to be in trouble before a late run got them a brief lead. The Rams, however, came back to take a 72-68 lead on a tip-in basket by Robinson. UO senior gaurd Dylan Ennis hit a free throw to make it 72-69. A minute later, Dorsey hit a three to tie the game with 1:46 remaining. 

That set up his game-winning heroics with the deep three to win it. 

High-flying Ducks: Dorsey was red hot once again this postseason. He made all three of his shots in the first half and finished 9 of 10 for 27 points. He made 4 of 5 from three-point range.

Junior forward Bell had six points and 12 rebounds. Brooks shot poorly (7 of 20), but scored 19 points and had seven rebounds. 

Fowl play: Ennis and Pritchard did not show up for this one. Ennis shot 1 of 6 for seven points, but he did have five rebounds and four assists. Pritchard also shot 1 of 6 from the field to finish with five points. He committed four turnovers. 

Up next: Oregon will travel to Kansas City, Mo., to play No. 7 Michigan. The Wolverines (26-11) upset No. 2 Louisville (25-9), 73-69 earlier Sunday. 

 

Ducks look forward to getting physical with Rhode Island

Ducks look forward to getting physical with Rhode Island

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Oregon forward Jordan Bell felt the action becoming physical early on during Friday's 93-77 win over Iona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

After a bit of banging and shoving inside, Bell said he glanced over at an official looking for a foul. When informed by the official that he was going to let them play inside, Bell reacted favorably. 

"It was on," he said. "Let's go."

During the course of the game, Bell said he got busted in the lip twice, banged in the back and in the ribs. No problem. 

“I love it,” Bell said with a smile.

That's good because he and the Ducks are going to see even more physical play from Rhode Island in Sunday's second-round matchup at the Golden 1 Center. 

The 11-seeded Rams (25-9) are known for their defense and physical brand of basketball. They like to ugly things up. So far, that strategy has worked well for them. Rhode Island has won nine consecutive games. and along the way won the Atlantic 10 Tournament. On Thursday, the Rams took down six-seeded Creighton, 84-72. 

“We have to come out and punch them in the mouth first," Bell said. "Don't let them hit us first because then they are going to get energy and confidence.”

Lips busted. Punches. Hits. Is this UFC or the NCAA Tournament?

The Ducks appear to be good with a mixture of both.

"They want to try to punk you," UO senior guard Dylan Ennis said. "I love that kind of basketball."

Oregon's athletes are superior to what the Rams can put on the court. But that won't matter if Rhode Island can control the game on defense and slow down the tempo.

“We’re going to have to really push it and get out there and run, and create plays for out teammates,” UO junior forward Dillon Brooks said.

If Oregon can get its flow going on offense, the Rams will be done. They can't match Oregon's firepower. They haven't needed to. Rhode Island has held opponents to 64.9 points per game and 40 percent shooting. But the Rams haven't faced many teams like Oregon. Rhode Island's best victory came over Cincinnati, the sixth seed in the South Region. The Rams lost 75-65 to Duke, the second seed in the East Region.

The Ducks are certainly more battle tested. However, the same was true last season when the UO faced Saint Joseph's - also out of the Atlantic 10 - in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Spokane, Wash.  UO escaped with a 69-65 win. Sunday's game could be similar.

Oregon sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey said Rhode Island does a good job of creating disruption.  

“They play with a lot of active hands," he said. "They put a lot of pressure up. They deny the wings and deny the post. So they like to play aggressive and I think that’s what makes their defense strong.”

Rhode Island features two bigs in the middle that can make life tough for opponents. Hassan Martin is averaging 2.5 blocked shots per game. He is the Rams' version of Oregon's Bell. Then there's Kuran Iverson, averaging 1.3 blocked shots. The pair of Rams big men combine for 14.4 rebounds per game. 

"Their athleticism is very good," UO coach Dana Altman said. "They get out and pressure and are very physical, similar to Arizona in our league. I like their group. I like their depth. They're making with tremendous confidence."

Dorsey and Brooks said Oregon must do a good job of moving the ball around in order to create openings. One benefit of playing with good shot blockers is being prepared for such skills on opposing teams.

"Obviously, in practice every day playing with or against Jordan and Chris you see that," UO junior guard Casey Benson said. "It's obviously when you see Jordan and Chris two of the best shot-blockers in the country that helps. They're going to be flying around and we've got to get the best shots possible knowing that they're coming and making plays for each other to get open looks and get drives to the basket."

 

Ducks open NCAAs with win, remain confident chemistry will remain minus Boucher

Ducks open NCAAs with win, remain confident chemistry will remain minus Boucher

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Oregon senior forward Chris Boucher couldn't help his team on the floor during the Ducks' 93-77 win over Iona Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But he still offered his infectious energy in other ways. 

Boucher, out for a the season after tearing his ACL during last week's Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., could be seen at the Golden 1 Center cheering, encouraging and from time to time, getting his groove on with celebratory dance moves while wearing a black knee brace over black sweatpants on the team's bench. 

Not having the 6-foot-10 Boucher's physical abilities will certainly hurt the Ducks' chances of advancing deep into the tournament. Losing the chemistry the team built up with Boucher as a central figure should also be a concern. So far, so good. 

"I don't think the chemistry changed at all," UO senior guard Dylan Ennis said. "Chris, him being on the sideline is just like him being on the floor chemistry-wise. He's physically not there, but he's so much a part of our team, encouraging us. Obviously having him out there it's a different look. But if all of us stay on the defensive end and all of us stay active on defense, then, hopefully we can makeup for him being out."

No. 3-seed UO (29-5) had little trouble with Iona, jumping out to a 55-37 lead at halftime. The Gaels came back to make things semi interesting at 73-60, but then the Ducks reapplied the clamps and that was that. 

Oregon didn't seem to miss Boucher. The Ducks dominated the glass, 41-27 and shot 55.6 percent from the field. However, Iona certainly isn't a high measuring stick. The Gaels can shoot the three well but proved incapable of producing many open looks against the Ducks' defense. Stopping Oregon for Iona appeared to be impossible at times.

The Ducks will face much tougher competition ahead, starting with No. 11-seeded Rhode Island on Sunday. The Rams defeated No. 6-seeded Creighton, 84-72 on Friday. There will come a night when Boucher won't have much to dance about and his absence will be felt. Surviving those types of nights will require several things for Oregon, and it got some of those today. 

Freshman guard Payton Pritchard and junior guard Casey Benson showed up after poor showing in Las Vegas. Pritchard gave UO 18 points and Benson scored seven off the bench. Good Tyler Dorsey also made the trip to Sacramento and gave the Ducks 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting. When he plays like that to compliment Dillon Brooks, 18 points, Oregon is a beast of a team. 

The potential negative was the play of junior forward Kavell Bigby-Williams. At 6-10, he is needed to give the Ducks some of the inside presence they lost with Boucher went down. Bigby-Williams battled foul trouble all game and finished with four fouls and four points. UO coach Dana Altman, after the game, joked that his big man had picked up some of Brooks' bad habits of picking up ticky-tack fouls. However, Altman said he was overall pleased with Bigby-Williams' performance. 

"Six rebounds in 14 minutes was very good," Altman said. "You can tell he's a good rebounder. I thought his defensive work was pretty good... I thought he played pretty good. We had him hedging some ball screens. He got out there a little far on one and made a mistake there, but the more experience gets, he will continue to get better and better. I thought he did his job today. He did get a couple of fouls, but I thought he was contesting the shot pretty good. It could have went either way."

Oregon won a tournament game for the fifth consecutive season. However, the goal is to improve on last season's Elite Eight appearance in the West Regional Finals where they lost badly to Oklahoma. Getting that far will be tough minus Boucher, but the Ducks don't lack confidence in their ability to survive and advance with what they have available. 

"I feel like we got a confident bunch," Brooks said. "Guys are ready to play from 1-12. We got confidence in each other. Last year we made a great run, and we had a veteran leadership, but this year I feel like we got a confident bunch, and, you know, thinking about one goal and one goal only."
 

Ducks open NCAA Tournament with 93-77 win over Iona

Ducks open NCAA Tournament with 93-77 win over Iona

Oregon 93, Iona 77

How Oregon won: No. 3-seed Oregon (30-5) had little trouble dispatching of No. 14 seed Iona (22-13) during the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif.

The Ducks were too athletic and too skilled for the sharp-shooting Gaels who used their three-point shooting to remain close for a bit in the first half before superior Oregon ran away with a 55-37 lead at halftime. 

Oregon built a 26-point lead in the second only to watch the Gaels shoot their way back to within 83-70 with 5:56 remaining in the game, but the Ducks never relinquished control of the game. 

Iona made 10 of 26 three-point attempts. Oregon shot 55.6 percent from the field and won the rebounding battle, 41-27. 

What it means: The Ducks have won a tournament game for the fifth consecutive season. 

Key sequence: Iona hit consecutive three-point baskets sandwiched around an Oregon field goal to make the score 29-26 Ducks with 8:35 remaining in the first half. From that point on, the Ducks outscored Iona 29-11 before the break to take command of the game with a 55-37 lead at halftime.

During the run, the Ducks got a three-pointer from junior guard Casey Benson and 12 points from junior forward Jordan Bell along the way. A short jumper from sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey gave the Ducks a 50-35 lead with 1:42 remaining in the first half.

High-flying Ducks: Dorsey continued his torrid postseason pace with 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting. He also had five rebounds.

Freshman guard Payton Pritchard, who struggled during the Pac-12 Tournament, turned it on here today with 18 points. He made four of seven from three-point range. 

Junior forward Dillon Brooks finished with 18 points, four assists and four rebounds. 

Fowl play: Kavell Bigby-Williams, needed more now than ever with the season-ending injury to senior forward Chris Boucher, got into early foul trouble and finished with four personals, four points and six rebounds in 15 minutes of action.

He must play better if Oregon is going to advance deep into this tournament. 

Up next: Oregon will play No. 11 Rhode Island (25-9) on Sunday. The Rams defeated No. 5 Creighton, 84-72 on Friday in Sacramento.