Altman and Oregon face major rebuild after mass exodus of talent

Altman and Oregon face major rebuild after mass exodus of talent

The Oregon basketball team won't sink to the bottom of the Pac-12 standings next season. Not even after losing seven of their best nine players from this year's Final Four team. UO coach Dana Altman is too good of a strategist and leader for that to happen, and he will have some promising, but young talent to work with. 

But the Ducks are virtually assured of taking a major step backward from what was a two-year run of excellence the program hadn't experienced in the modern era. Any chance of replicating the Final Four run from last season or the march to the Elite Eight the season before went out of the door with the departures of junior forwards, Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks, and sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey, all of whom decided to venture into NBA waters.

Few programs in the nation could recover from losing that much talent and still remain a national title contender. Then factor in the losses of senior forward Chris Boucher and senior guard Dylan Ennis, plus junior guard Casey Benson, who elected to transfer, and the likely loss of junior big man Kavell Bigby-Williams, who has requested and received the freedom to seek a new program for his services. 

Add all of that up and you have a program in major flux. 

“It’s been a crazy two weeks,” Altman said today during a press conference at Matthew Knight Arena. “But those guys, I really feel good for all of them...I sure hope it works out for all of them."

But will all of this work out for Oregon? Probably. In due time.  Providing Altman can, or has, acquired pieces that will be around long enough for him to mold into another wrecking machine. 

Recruiting hasn't and shouldn't be a problem. 

“You go to a Final Four and everybody at least picks up the phone,” Altman said.

Altman said the departure of Brooks and Dorsey was expected. Both tested entered the NBA Draft process following the 2015-16 season before each elected to return to UO. That they at least had one door out of the door last season, Altman said, made it clear that the duo would likely depart this spring. 

“It was pretty obvious that if they had a nice year they were going to leave,” Altman said.

Bell's future remained unclear to Altman until the shot-blocking menace put forth several dominant performances during the postseason, thus raising his stock on some online mock drafts from middle of the second round to the latter part of the first.

“You play that well for so many games, late, I can’t blame him [for leaving],” Altman said.

Bigby-Williams didn't play much in his first season at UO, while Benson, Altman said, didn't easily accept losing his starting job to freshman point guard Payton Pritchard. 

Speaking of Pritchard, he will now take over as the leader of a team that will experience a heavy youth movement.

“We’re going to be younger next year than we’ve been in awhile, which is kind of exciting from a coaching standpoint,” Altman said.

So what will the team look like next season? Not too bad, providing some unproven talent blossoms as both players and leaders, something last season's team did not lack.

"Somebody will establish himself [as a leader]," Altman said. "It might take awhile. I think the leadership qualities come out of necessity, sometimes.”

Altman pointed to the winning past of his recruits. He said he tries to sign players that won in high school. Few high school basketball players have ever won as much as Pritchard, who led West Linn High School to four 6A state titles. 

Pritchard will be the lone regular returning player next season and will have a chance to put his stamp on the program. He also could receive some help from a graduate transfer, or two. Altman has been the master of finding veteran players from across the country and getting great success out of them for one or two years.

Mike Moser, Jason Calliste, Joseph Young and Dylan Ennis were all fabulous for the Ducks. 

“We have done very well with grad transfers,” Altman said.

Oregon is reportedly in the running for New Mexico guard Elijah Brown, who averaged 18.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season. He would certainly give the Ducks a proven collegiate scorer to work with, something the roster lacks at the moment. 

Here is a look at what all the Ducks could look like next season:

Guards: Pritchard, a fierce scorer while dominating Oregon high school basketball at West Linn, will now have much more freedom on offense. Starting in the backcourt with him could be 6-foot-6 freshman Troy Brown, a five-star recruit out of Las Vegas, Nev., who is rated as the No. 12 player in the nation and projected by some to be an NBA first-round pick next spring. Four-star recruit Victor Bailey (Round Rock, Texas) could also be in the mix as a freshman.  That's a lot of youth in the backcourt. 

The addition of Elijah Brown would balance out this group with a veteran presence who can fill it up. 

Forwards: Sophomore Keith Smith, a four-star recruit last year, played a bit here and there during last season and will be the front-runner to start next season. The Ducks will also need production from 6-10 M.J. Cage, another four-star recruit from last year, and transfer Paul White from Georgetown.

White is a major wild card. Rivals.com ranked White as the 50th best player in the nation in 2014. The 6-foot-9 White played a lot as a freshman with the Hoyas, averaging 5.0 points per game, but missed most of the following season after undergoing abdominal surgery. He sat out last season and will be a junior next fall.

Cage redshirted due to injury but is expected to provide size in side next season. 

“Both will give us some minutes next year,” Altman said of Cage and White.

Small forward recruit, Abu Kigab (Napa, Calif.) could also see time in a thin frontcourt. 

Senior Roman Sorkin will be the most experienced big man back and at the very least will provide veteran depth. 

On Monday, the Ducks received a commitment from three-star forward Kenny Wooten, adding to their 2017 recruiting haul. 

The Ducks are reportedly still in the mix to land 6-10, five-star center Brandon McCoy, rated as the No. 11 player in the nation.  

Should the Ducks land McCoy, the frontcourt would take on a whole new look, but still would be too young to be considered one that would push the Ducks deep into the NCAA Tournament. 

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All told, Oregon next season will have at least six players who were four-star recruits and one five-star recruit in Brown. That's not a bad collection of talent for Altman to mold. But it will be a group of freshmen and sophomores, other than White. 

It's the type of group that Altman could have ready for greatness by 2020, providing nearly everyone sticks around for more than a year. 

That said, Altman isn't done recruiting. He could land another freshman, such as McCoy, and get Brown to transfer in along with another strong veteran. 

“We’ve got a lot more playing time to sell,” Altman said.

Sad, true. Altman also can sell the program's recent successes and reason to believe the future could be just as bright. 

Oregon Center Kavell Bigby-Williams granted permission to transfer

Oregon Center Kavell Bigby-Williams granted permission to transfer

Center Kavell Bigby-Williams has requested and been greanted his release from the team to transfer, according to an Oregon spokesman, and joins a long list of recent former Ducks to leave the program. 

Bigby-Williams came to Oregon last year as the top-rated junior college player in the nation but never lived up to that billing. The 6-foot-11 Bigby-Williams appeared in 37 games, played 9.8 minutes per game during a season that saw him average 3.0 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. 

Oregon has now seen the departure of seven of the Ducks top eight players from last season. 

Guard Dylan Ennis and forward Chris Boucher left as seniors. Junior forwards Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell, and sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey decided to enter the NBA Draft. Junior Casey Benson has elected to tranfer.

That leaves freshman Payton Pritchard as the only returning starter and regular member of the team's regular eight-man rotation.

Freshman Keith Smith played sparingly last season but saw time in the NCAA Tournament and even scored a basket in the team's Final Four loss to North Carolina. 

 

 

Oregon guard Casey Benson announces decision to transfer

Oregon guard Casey Benson announces decision to transfer

The deconstruction of Oregon's first Final Four team in 78 years continued this evening with the announcement from junior guard Casey Benson that he would seek to transfer. 

"I believe it's in my best interest to graduate this spring and become a graduate transfer," Benson stated on Twitter. 

Jordan Bell? We await your decision...

Gone already are sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey and junior forward Dillon Brooks. Both followed seniors Chris Boucher and Dylan Ennis out the door. 

Benson's decision means that five of the team's top seven players are now gone. Bell would make six should he decide to leave. He is projected by many online mock drafts to be a first-round pick in this summer's NBA Draft.

Benson's choice comes a bit out of left field but shouldn't be considered all that shocking. Benson started the 2015-2016 for an Oregon team that won the Pac-12 regular season and tournament championships before reaching the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. His reward - to lose his starting job to freshman Payton Pritchard this season when the Ducks reached the Final Four.

Benson didn't figure to return to the starting lineup next season even with the departure of Dorsey and Brooks. So, with most of his pals now gone, it only stands to reason that Benson would recognize the disintegration of what the Ducks built and seek to find a place where he could start his senior year. 

As a graduate transfer, Benson would be eligible to play right away. 

Benson wasn't flashy or a great scorer for the Ducks, but UO fans should never - ever- forget the season he had in 2015-16 when he committed just 24 turnovers while handing out 117 assists and averaging 6.0 points per game over 38 starts. The 24 turnovers is astounding but it wasn't enough to assure him of being the starter the following season. Pritchard committed 56 turnovers in 38 games this season while averaging 7.4 points per game with 141 assists. 

Pritchard said at the Final Four that he and Benson had a frosty relationship to start the season when both were competing for the starting point guard spot. Both said that their relationship got better over time, but clearly there was some friction between the two early on in the season. 

Oregon junior Dillon Brooks declares for the NBA draft

Oregon junior Dillon Brooks declares for the NBA draft

Dillon Brooks announced Wednesday that he has hired an agent and plans to enter the NBA Draft.

The junior forward announced the decision on his Instagram with a link to his website:

"I've done so much here and everything has been great. I wouldn't be here right now without coaching staff, believing in me," Brooks said in the video. "I was not highly recruited and they believed in me from the jump. I just feel like now I'm going to take my talents to the next level and enter in the draft.

Brooks was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year after averaging 16.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.7 assists this season.

Not to be overlooked on a stat sheet is his big play ability. The All-American hit game-winning shots against Tennessee, UCLA and Cal this past season.

Brooks led Oregon to the NCAA Tournament in each of his three years, including a history-making Final Four run. He is Oregon's all-time scoring and assists leader in tournament history.

Brooks is projected by most mock drafts to be a second-round pick. This announcement comes two days after Oregon guard Tyler Dorsey also declared for the NBA Draft.

Junior Jordan Bell has not yet announced his future plans.

Oregon guard Tyler Dorsey announces he is entering NBA Draft

Oregon guard Tyler Dorsey announces he is entering NBA Draft

Oregon sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey, who played the best basketball of his career during the Ducks' run to the Final Four, announced via Twitter that he has hired an agent and plans to enter the NBA Draft. 

"After this great college experience, I believe this is the time to pursue my dream of a NBA career and I am now announcing my intention to declare for the 2017 NBA Draft with an agent," Dorsey wrote. "I have carefully deliberated this decision with my family and feel the timing is now right to pursue my path to a professional basketball career."

Dorsey tested the NBA waters last year only to ultimately return to UO after it became clear that his draft stock wasn't very high. Not very many current online mock drafts project Dorsey to even be a second-round pick this year, but he won't be able to return to the Ducks if things don't go well during the draft process now that he has hired an agent.

Dorsey had a very inconsistent season in which he made three or fewer field goals in 14 games. Once the postseason came around, however, he went bonkers.

Dorsey averaged 23.6 points per game during the Pac-12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament while shooting 55.7 percent from three-point range. His play could be considered the greatest postseason showing by an Oregon player in program history and was directly responsible for the Ducks reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1939. 

The question for Dorsey at the NBA level is if his outside shot is good enough to compensate for his 6-foot-4 height at the shooting guard position and lack of elite athleticism. 

Now the Ducks will await word on the future status of junior forwards, Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell. Brooks is projected by most mock drafts to be a second-round pick while Bell, who also had a strong postseason, is listed as a potential late first-round pick by many. 

 

 

 

Gonzaga and Mark Few fail to close in historic season, lose 71-65 to North Carolina

Gonzaga and Mark Few fail to close in historic season, lose 71-65 to North Carolina

GLENDALE, Ariz - Gonzaga coach Mark Few came so close to bringing a national championship to the Pacific Northwest, an area the Creswell, Ore., native has called home his entire life. 

But in the final minutes of Monday night's national championship game, his Bulldogs couldn't quite find the mettle to overcome a North Carolina team that forcibly, but narrowly, tiptoed through the best the Northwest had to offer during the Final Four at University of Phoenix Stadium. 

The No. 1 Tar Heels, who rank among the bluest of blue bloods this sport has to offer, won their sixth national title, 71-65, just two nights after escaping, 77-76 over Oregon, Few's alma mater and the last Northwest program to win a national (1939). 

The heartbreak following the loss was real for Few and his team. This was Gonzaga's chance to do something many thought was close to impossible - win a national title as a mid-major out of the WCC

“I’m hoping it will settle in and we will feel better tomorrow and in the days to come," Few said. "It doesn’t feel that great right now for a couple reasons. You’re right there on the brink of a national championship. You want to give that to your team and your program. But at the same time, the other thing that just crushes you is that you don’t get to coach these guys ever again. That was going to happen whether we won or lost, so that’s the one that kind of really hurts. But I couldn’t be prouder."

Gonzaga had ample opportunity to pull this game out. The Bulldogs led 65-63 in a game that was about as appealing to watch as bricks being laid. In this game, the bricks were being launched toward the rims at an alarming rate. 

North Carolina (33-7) made just 26 of 73 shots (35.6 percent) and shot 4 of 27 from three-point range. Gonzaga (37-2) shot 33.9 percent on 20-of-59 shooting and committed 14 turnovers, compared to a stellar four for North Carolina.

"First of all, they were excellent tonight, defensively," Few said. "They disrupted us. They climbed up into us, kind of drove our offense outside the normal area, as far as our wing touches and our entries. And we didn't do a good job of probably executing that."

Yet, there the Bulldogs were, leading with 1:53 remaining in the game. From that point on, however, Gonzaga appeared to be stuck in mud, especially guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who had given Gonzaga the lead with a jumper. 

First, NC forward Justin Jackson tied the game on a jump shot before seconds later being fouled by Williams-Goss. Jackson made a free throw that gave NC a 66-65 lead it would never relinquish. Williams-Goss went on to miss a jumper that led to Tar Heels center Kennedy Meeks scoring on a short shot to give North Carolina a 68-65 lead with 26 seconds remaining. 

Williams-Goss came back again to try to tie the game but Meeks blocked his shot and that led to a breakaway dunk by Jackson to make it 70-65 with 12 seconds remaining. 

Gonzaga's final possession resulted in a turnover and that was that.  

In Williams-Goss' defense, he did sprain his ankle late in the game.

"Sprained it pretty good," he said. "It was the same ankle that I hurt last game so it was still a little bit weak. Stepped on it wrong and rolled it. But my adrenaline was rushing. Like I said last game, nothing was going to stop me from finishing out this game. So that's what happened."

A lot of interesting things happened for both teams, mostly mediocre. This was not a well played game. The officiating seemed to be a bit whistle-happy, calling 44 personal fouls with 27 foul calls in the first half. However, Few offered no excuses in that area. 

"I had no issue whatsoever," he said. "I thought they did a fabulous job. And I'm on the losing end. And it's just not an easy game to ref. And we're throwing the ball inside. They're throwing the ball inside. Our guards go downhill. Their guards go downhill. So, I thought they were great."

Gonzaga shouldn't blame anyone but itself for the loss. The Bulldogs, like the Ducks two nights prior, blew several opportunities late with their respective games against North Carolina on the line. 

What maybe mattered most in both cases was that the experience of the Tar Heels, who lost last year's national championship game, 77-74, to Villanova on a buzzer-beater. 

North Carolina, who called this season the "Redemption Tour," has now been to 20 Final Fours. Oregon - one in 78 years. Gonzaga - its first ever. 

The Bulldogs could have other looks at claiming a national championship. Maybe next time they will cash in. Maybe not. Either way, this season made it clear that a team from a second-tier conference could compete with the best of the best. 

"How many teams would take 37-2, league champs, national runner-up?" Gonzaga guard Jordan Matthews said. "We broke that glass ceiling everybody said we couldn't get over. Everybody was saying how the Zags couldn't get to the Final Four. So we did that."

And then some. 

Brooks, Bell and Dorsey should return to improve and finish this thing off right

Brooks, Bell and Dorsey should return to improve and finish this thing off right

GLENDALE, Ariz. - It might be a pipe dream, but let's at least entertain the possibility that Oregon stars Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey all could return next season.

All three left the door open following the team's 77-76 loss to North Carolina Saturday in the Final Four played at University of Phoenix Stadium. 

"I'm not too sure," Brooks said when asked about his plans. "I'm going to go through the process and take my time with it."

Bell and Dorsey made similar statements. 

If they were to return, the Ducks could very well be voted as the preseason No. 1-ranked team in the nation and picked as the favorite to capture the 2018 national championship. 

This season will go down as one of historical significance for a program that hadn't made it that far since winning it all in 1939. That didn't lessen the sour feelings in a dejected locker room following defeat. So why not return to take care of unfinished business?

Money is always an allure, along with the dream of playing in the NBA. All of that would still be there for all these three in 2018 with only the fear of injury serving as a potential deterrent. 

There's something else, also; the possibility that none of the three is truly ready for the NBA, or will have much of a career in the association to begin with. 

Bell has played his way into being projected by some mock drafts as a potential late first-round pick. Brooks is projected by most to join senior Chris Boucher in the second round. Dorsey's hot postseason has landed him on some second-round lists. Each could conceivably improve his stock by returning and increase his chances of going higher in the 2018 draft. 

That all, of course, is easy to write from a laptop. Each has a lot of issues to consider, including what's best for their respective families. But from a pure basketball perspective, there are ample reasons for all three to return, but chances are that just one, maybe two, decide to come back. 

Here's a look at the probability each man returning for another season at Oregon: 

Dillon Brooks, Jr., forward, projected second-round pick: Brooks actually should probably leave. He's accomplished so much already and will go down as one of the program's greats. He improved his outside shooting over last season, and he demonstrate great fire, rim attacking ability and all-around defensive skills. He likely won't be a starter for a good NBA team, but he could contribute as a bench player and have some productive years. Returning to Oregon for the Pac-12 player of the year and second-team All-American, and duplicating that success, could thrust Brooks into the first round nexts year.

What will he do?: 80 percent chance he leaves: Brooks explored the draft last season before wisely returning. He's tasted injury this season (foot) and probably won't want to risk a more serious setback next season. 

Jordan Bell, Jr., forward, projected first or second round: Bell has the best pro potential of the three. He is already an NBA-caliber rebounder and shot blocker. His offense, however, won't cut it at the next level. He did demonstrate dramatic improvement in that area this season. Should he return to add more post moves and demonstrate an ability to stick the short jump shot that many teams give him, Bell could play his way into the lottery. 

What will he do?: 50/50. Bell has improved every season and would take another big step if he were to return. It's difficult enough for big men to adjust to the NBA, let alone one with a very marginal offensive game. Bell should come back next season and raise his 10.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game this season to a cool 15 and 10 next season. 

Tyler Dorsey, So., guard, projected second-round pick to undrafted: Dorsey, who explored the draft last season, appeared to be a lock to return after a wildly inconsistent season before he went off during the postseason, raising his stock. He crushed it in the Pac-12 Tournament and during the first four games of the NCAA Tournament, averaging 23.5 points per game while hitting on 57.5 percent of his three-point attempts. His showing should be enough to make him a second-round pick. However, there are red flags. First off; he had 14 games during the regular season where he made three or fewer field goals with six games of one or zero shots made. Did his supreme tournament showing erase all of that from the minds of scouts? Probably not. Plus, at 6-4 he struggled mightily against North Carolina's perimeter length. The 6-8 Justin Jackson and the 6-6 Theo Pinson were able to prevent Dorsey from getting his shot, harassing him into a 3-of-11 shooting night. Dorsey did, however, finish with 21 points thanks to his ability to get to the free throw line and make all 12 of his attempts from there.

Dorsey isn't a point guard and might not be athletic or big enough to consistently get his shot in the NBA. He does, however, potentially have a future as a three-point marksman off the bench, but only if he becomes more consistent from long distance. 

He could develop in that area next season. 

What will he do?: 25 percent chance he leaves. Dorsey needs to stay another season to show that he can do over an entire season what he did during the postseason. If Brooks leaves, Dorsey becomes the lead scorer and could raise his average from 14.6 this season to 20, or more. Even if Brooks stays, Dorsey could raise his scoring average to 18 simply by drastically reducing the number of horrid performances he puts forth. 

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Oregon's lineup next season would be ridiculous if all three returned to play alongside guards, Payton Pritchard, Casey Benson, and a hopefully an improved Kavell Bigby-Williams in the middle. Plus, the Ducks welcome in a strong recruiting class led by five-star, and probably one-and-done guard Troy Brown. 

It would be a roster that could certainly get back to the Final Four and bring back a companion for hte 1939 trophy.

But it probably won't happen.

Or could it?

A dejected Oregon team searches for solace after a great season

A dejected Oregon team searches for solace after a great season

GLENDALE, Ariz. - The hushed whispers that floated throughout a disappointed Oregon locker room spoke louder than the often inaudible words that escaped the lips of several dejected Ducks players.

UO knew they it had allowed a big moment to slip away during a gut-wrenching, yet typically spirited effort that fell short, 77-76 to North Carolina Saturday night in the Final Four at University of Phoenix Stadium.  

"It hurts because we were right there," UO guard Tyler Dorsey said. 

Right there to steal what would have been the greatest win in program history and set up an all-Northwest championship game Monday night with No.1 Gonzaga (37-1). 

Instead, the Ducks (33-6), who rallied back from a double-digit deficit to nearly win fell short and had only themselves to blame. 

"We fought so hard," UO coach Dillon Brooks said. "We fought together. We just couldn't pull this game out."

North Carolina (32-7) missed four free throws in the final six seconds and UO failed to secure an offensive rebound and a chance to make a game-winning shot. Taking the loss the hardest was forward Jordan Bell, who shed tears as he blamed himself for not finding a way to wrestle one of those failed rebound attempts away from North Carolina, which ran out the clock after the second critical offensive rebound.

"I should have blocked out better," Bell said. "I've done that a million times."

Bell ran through the scenarios that could have followed had he grabbed a rebound. They included one of the Ducks' scorers winning the game at the buzzer. But nobody on the team blamed Bell, who battled hard inside all night against a much bigger North Carolina team, led by Kennedy Meeks' 25 points and 14 rebounds, the final one icing the game. 

"Meeks bullied us tonight," freshman point guard Payton Pritchard said. 

Guard Casey Benson actually blamed himself.

"Yeah, I mean the first (rebound), it just got tipped out and they got it," he said. "And the second one, they got it again. So I wish I could've dove and gotten it. That was on me."

This was on nobody in particular. The game was filled with a zillion near misses and mistakes by both teams. 

According to Pritchard, the plan, following the final free throws by North Carolina's Joel Berry II, was to pop Dorsey out for a jumper if the Tar Heels guard made the final attempt. If Berry missed, which he did, Pritchard said that whoever got the ball was going to have to go down court and make something happen. Neither chance ever came for UO. 

"This is a tough moment," Brooks said. 

Brooks wasn't there to help Bell on the boards after fouling out with about five minutes remaining. He quietly lamented how much it hurt him to be on the bench rather than helping his team when it needed him the most. 

"I feel like I let my team down," Brooks said. 

UO coach Dana Altman expressed pride in his team. The way they battled. The way they fought. But the team didn't play great basketball as it had during last week's upset over No. 1 Kansas in the Elite Eight. 

"They're going to look back and it's going to hurt because we didn't play very well at times," Altman said. "And our turnovers (16, 12 in the first half) were bad and we made some really bad decisions and quick 3s."

Despite the loss, this was the greatest season Oregon has had since winning the 1939 national title. The program has been on a steady upward trajectory under Altman the past four years. The Ducks could easily be back here again, and soon. 

"We're definitely on the rise," Brooks said. "It's been a great season. We played really hard, we played for each other. This team will go down as one of the best [Oregon teams] in history."

No doubt. 

Oregon's comeback falls short, lose 77-76 to North Carolina

Oregon's comeback falls short, lose 77-76 to North Carolina

North Carolina 77, Oregon 76 

How Oregon lost: No. 3 Oregon (33-6) had a chance to steal this game in the end but twice failed to secure an offensive rebound after No. 1 North Carolina (32-7) missed four free throws in the final six seconds of this Final Four matchup Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks missed two free throws with the Tar Heels up 77-76 with 5.8 seconds remaining but Theo Pinson grabbed the rebound and got the ball to Joel Berry II, who was then fouled by Tyler Dorsey with 4.0 seconds remaining.

Berry then proceeded to miss two free throws, but this time it was Meeks who who grabbed the rebound and got the ball to Pinson, who ran out the clock for the win. 

That ended what had been a gutty performance by the outmatched Ducks, who were down by as much as 10 in the second half. But despite poor overall performances by Dorsey and Dillon Brooks, the Ducks were able to battle back and had a chance to win it late. 

North Carolina will face No. 1 Gonzaga in the championship game. The Bulldogs won 77-74 over No. 6 South Carolina in the day's first game.

The first half produced some odd basketball. Oregon struggled to hold on to the ball while NC couldn't make shots. At one point early, UO had committed six turnovers and NC was shooting 17.6 percent from the field. Oregon fought of its turnoves to build a 30-22 lead with 4:07 remaining in the half.  The Tar Heels then began making shots but Oregon continued to cough uup the ball. The Ducks finished with 12 turnovers in the first half. NC raised its shooting percentage to 40 percent by making seven of their last eight attempts, and consequently went on a 9-4 run to close the half and lead 39-36. 

Dorsey, clearly disrupted by NC's perimeter length on defense, missed all four of his shot attempts in the first half to finish with four points on free throws. Brooks also struggled, making 2 of 7 shots for six points. 

Oregon wasn't helped by an apparent ankle injury to Jordan Bell, who left the game for a couple of minutes before returning, but appeared to be bothered by the injury. 

Pritchard scored the team's first five points but three personal fouls limited him to six minutes of action in the first half. 

Meeks had 25 points and 14 rebounds. Justin Jackson scored 22 for North Carolina. 

What it means: Oregon advanced to its first Final Four since 1939 but came away empty. Still, this was the greatest season since then and is something the program can be proud of. Still, coming so close to defeating the Tar Heels here tonight will sting for some time. 

Key sequence: NC led 56-49 with 11:57 remaining in the game. At this point, Dorsey and Brooks are a combined 3 of 14. UO was 4 of 14 as a team in the half, including 1 of 8 on threes. 

Dorsey finally hit his first three-point shot while in transition off of a miss by Jackson to make it 56-52. But Pinson answered with a wide-open three for NC. The Tar Heels went on to methodically build a 71-62 lead with 5:54 remaining.

But the Ducks would not go away. Dorsey hit some free throws - he made 12 of 12 on the night - and Ennis made a three. Dorsey hit one of his three three-point field goals and then made another to make the score 77-74 with 46 seconds remaining.

Keith Smith got a made layup off of an assist from Ennis following a missed Pinson jumper and that set up the final seconds of action.

High-flying Ducks: Ennis had 18 points on 7 of 19 shooting. Jordan Bell gave the Ducks 13 points and 16 rebounds with four blocked shots. 

Fowl play: Dorsey scored 21 points but made just 3 of 11 shots. Brooks finished with 10 points on 2 of 11 shooting and had five turnovers before fouling out late in the second half.

His presence was missed down the stretch. 

Oregon committed a whopping 12 turnovers in the first half. 

Oregon shot 37.9 percent from the field. 

Up next:  Oregon will wait and see if Dorsey, Bell and/or Brooks head for the NBA along with seniors, Chris Boucher and Dylan Ennis. If two of the three return, the Ducks could be back here again next season. 

North Carolina hopes to avoid making the list of #ThingsJordanBellCouldBlock

North Carolina hopes to avoid making the list of #ThingsJordanBellCouldBlock

GLENDALE, Ariz. - You know you've got it going on when someone in the social media world creates a meme about you achieving superhuman feats. Take the shot-blocking prowess of Oregon forward Jordan Bell, for instance.

A search of #ThingsJordanBellCouldBlock on Twitter produces memes of Bell blocking a variety of items, including: A meteor from hitting the earth, the Titanic from sinking, the Death Star from destroying a planet and the Auburn kicker from making the winning field goal against Oregon in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.

What's not available yet are images of Bell blocking the shots from Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley, Austin Jackson and Luke Maye. They make up North Carolina's five players 6-foot-8 or better that will be attacking the 6-9 Bell when the Tar Heels (31-7) and Ducks (33-5) meet in Saturday's Final Four at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Bell, who had eight blocks last week against Kansas in the Elite eight, will have to contend with all five of those Tar Heels, and a few more from their 10-man rotation, in order for the Ducks to win a game in which North Carolina has a decided size advantage. The Tar Heels plan to give him plenty of opportunities. NC's game plan is to attack Oregon's lone impact big man. 

“We’re going to try to go at him and hopefully get him in foul trouble,” Maye said.

“The best thing to do to a shot blocker is to just go right at him,” said Hicks. “Don’t give him a chance to block it.”

Many teams have tried to do just that and have failed. Namely the Jayhawks. They kept going inside and Bell kept rejecting their shot. Those Bell didn't block, he either altered or impacted with his mere presence. 

“He’s a grown man in the paint,” Bradley said.  “It’s going to be a great challenge."

Oregon coach Dana Altman said Bell has taken his game to another level since the Pac-12 Tournament when the team learned that 6-10 senior forward Chris Boucher would be lost for the season. Junior Kavell Bigby-Williams offers size at 6-10, but hasn't shown that he is ready to make big contributions in big games.

In UO's first game without Boucher, the Ducks lost 83-80 to Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game while having some trouble inside against the Wildcats. That has changed since, and Bell is the key reason why. 

"That dude is a freak," NC forward Theo Pinson said. 

Hicks said what makes Bell special is his ability to anticipate the shot, and "having the ability to jump quick." He said shooters have to be mindful of Bell after beating the man guarding them. 

“Most of (his blocks) come from the weakside so you’ve got to be aware of that," Hicks said. "You’ve got to know that you have an open teammate when you drop to the basket because he’s going to help. "

Junior All-American Justin Jackson said the Tar Heels must be savvy against Bell. 

"I think there are going to be a lot of times where there are going to be pump fakes involved, or drop offs involved," Jackson said. "It will be key to try to get him in foul trouble." 

The problem there is that Bell averages just 1.7 personal fouls per game, has fouled out only once this season while reaching four fouls only once since November, and has has committed just three personal fouls in four NCAA Tournament games with 12 blocked shots.

"I think part of it has just been his focus," Altman said. "And he's risen to the occasion. I think he knew when Chris went down that there was going to be more pressure on him to perform. And fortunately for us he's handled that pressure very well."

The bottom line for UO is that if Bell can be disruptive on defense, the Ducks have a chance to win. If not, and if NC's bigs can get to the basket and score, Oregon's season ends on Saturday.