No. 12 Oregon locks up third Sweet 16 in four seasons

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South Region No. 12 Oregon appeared to be in some trouble during the second half of Sunday’s second round matchup with No. 13 UC Irvine. Dana Altman’s team went more than seven minutes without scoring a point, with the Anteaters going on a 16-0 run to take a two-point lead. But Oregon regained its composure and shooting ability, going on to win by the final score of 73-54.

Payton Pritchard led four double-digit scorers with 18 points while also dishing out seven assists, with Louis King adding 16. The two other double-digit scorers were just as impactful on the defensive end of the floor, as Ehab Amin and Kenny Wooten changed the tenor of the game after UC Irvine’s 16-0 run.

Amin was a pest on the perimeter, racking up three steals to go along with 12 points, five rebounds, and two assists. And if any UC Irvine player managed to get into the paint more often than not Kenny Wooten was waiting, as he blocked seven shots and changed many others. He was a finisher around the basket as well, adding 12 points and nine rebounds to his stat line.

Robert Cartwright led three UC Irvine players in double figures with 14 points, but Russell Turner’s team shot just 5-for-18 from three and the 24-point differential (Oregon finished 13-for-25) was too much for the Big West champions to overcome.

This is the third time in the last four years that the program has managed to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. But unlike those runs, an Elite Eight appearance as a 1-seed in 2016 and a Final Four as a 3-seed in 2017, this run has been more about a team getting hot at the right time.

Oregon lost Bol Bol in mid-December to a season-ending foot injury, and even though the Ducks won their first two games without the talented freshman it was obvious that things weren’t right. Oregon lost four of its first six conference games, and in February there was a three-game skid capped by a 90-83 loss at UCLA in which the Bruins scored 62 second-half points.

Since then the Ducks have been outstanding on the defensive end of the floor, allowing 60 points or less in eight of their ten wins. There’s still offensive talent on the roster, but without Bol Oregon had to buckle down defensively in order to have any chance of making good on the preseason expectations. It took some time but the Ducks eventually got things right, and the end result is a run that few imagined possible a month ago.

Next up for Oregon will be top-seed Virginia, a program well-known for its work on the defensive end of the floor. This will undoubtedly be a challenge for the Ducks, but thanks to the improved defense they’re more than capable of continuing this run.