Elgin Cook

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Buddy Hield leads No. 2 Oklahoma’s demolition of No. 1 Oregon

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With No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Oklahoma being the top two seeds in the West Region, it was fair to assume that the matchup would be a close one. Lon Kruger’s Sooners, most especially national Player of the Year favorite Buddy Hield, had other ideas however. Hield scored 37 points to lead Oklahoma to their first Final Four appearance since 2002, as they soundly defeated the Ducks by the final score of 80-68.

Hield scored his 37 points on 13-for-20 shooting from the field, making eight of his 13 attempts from beyond the arc. The two-time Big 12 Player of the Year did finish with six turnovers, and if not for those miscues one has to wonder just how many points Hield could have scored. Dana Altman tried a variety of looks defensively, including a matchup zone and man-to-man, but to no avail.

Essentially, Oregon experienced a feeling that many teams faced with the task of slowing down Hield have felt this season: powerlessness.

But to boil this game down to “they had Buddy and Oregon didn’t” would be far too simplistic an approach to take. In addition to being one of the nation’s best offensive teams, Oklahoma’s also ranked 14th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers.

They don’t do it with pressure defense, but the Sooners do a good job of keeping opponents out of the lane and forcing them to make tough shots. That’s what happened to Oregon, which shot 38.9 percent from the field and 4-for-21 from beyond the arc. Oregon had turnover issues early, and that combined with Hield’s 17-point first half resulted in an 18-point halftime hole that was too much for the Pac-12 champions to climb out of.

Elgin Cook finished with 24 points to lead three Oregon players in double figures, but far too often the Ducks lacked the fluidity on offense that was a trademark of many of their 31 wins on the season.

Lon Kruger’s team has shown throughout the season that, while Hield is certainly their feature option, this is no one-man operation. On nights when Hield wasn’t as efficient with his shooting others stepped forward, such as Jordan Woodard in Thursday’s win over Texas A&M (his most recent act) and Isaiah Cousins on multiple occasions as well. That wasn’t the case Saturday as tose two combined to shoot just 7-for-20 from the field, scoring 24 points, but Cousins dished out a game-high seven assists and freshman guard Christian James chipped in with ten rebounds off the bench as well.

Five of James’ rebounds came on the offensive end, and those second-chance opportunities (OU finished with an offensive rebounding percentage of 43.8 percent) proved costly in the first half. Those contributions, along with the front court tandem of Ryan Spangler and Khadeem Lattin, are why Oklahoma can win two more games once in Houston.

That all being said, Saturday night was all about the latest virtuoso performance from a player whose hard work in Norman has paid off. As a freshman Hield was thought to be more valuable as a perimeter defender, as he averaged 7.8 points per game and shot just 38.8 percent from the field and 23.8 percent from three with a shooting stroke that needed a lot of work. Going from that to a junior season in which he won Big 12 Player of the Year for the first time, it made sense that Hield would entertain thoughts of turning pro.

But the combination of a second-round grade from NBA execs and the “unfinished business” of wanting to get to a Final Four led to Hield deciding to return from his senior season. Hield will step onto the Final Four stage next weekend, and he’ll be joined by a cast of teammates who themselves have shown the ability to step forward when needed.

No. 8 Oregon holds on for 95-89 OT win over No. 15 Arizona

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LAS VEGAS (AP) Elgin Cook scored 22 points and No. 8 Oregon survived a wild closing sequence in regulation to beat No. 15 Arizona 95-89 in overtime Friday night in the Pac-12 semifinals.

Oregon (27-6) led by 17 early in the second half, but Arizona (25-8) charged back and tied it in improbable fashion.

Oregon’s Chris Boucher missed two free throws with 12 seconds left, and Arizona’s Gabe York followed with a 3-pointer after gathering a rebound. Mark Tollefsen stole the inbound pass and was fouled, but hit just 1 of 2 free throws to send the game to overtime.

The Ducks dominated overtime, going up six on 3-pointers by Dwayne Benjamin and Dillon Brooks to earn a spot in Saturday night’s championship game against No. 24 California or No. 12 Utah.

Tyler Dorsey had 19 points and Brooks 17 for the Ducks, who had 11 blocked shots and 10 steals.

Pac-12 Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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The expectation entering the season was that there were at least five teams capable of winning the Pac-12. Sure enough many of the expected contenders remained a factor for a significant portion of the season, with Oregon eventually rising as the class of the conference. Dana Altman’s Ducks went undefeated at home in Pac-12 play and finished above .500 on the road, which is generally a good formula to at the very least contend for a conference title. The play of Dillon Brooks, Elgin Cook and company may make Oregon the favorites in Las Vegas, but they’ll have plenty of challengers as well.

Utah has the conference’s Player of the Year in sophomore center Jakob Poeltl, Arizona and California both have talented rotations and teams such as Colorado, Oregon State, USC and Washington are all capable of making a run as well. As of right now the Pac-12 could be a seven-bid league depending upon not only what happens in Las Vegas but also in other conference tournaments across the country. This much is certain: given how balanced and talented the league is, whoever cuts down the nets Saturday night will have been pushed to their limit.

The Bracket

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When: March 9-12

Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas

Final: March 12, 10:00 p.m. (FS1)

Favorite: Oregon

The Ducks may have just a seven-man rotation, but it’s the versatility within that group that makes them so difficult to deal with. Dillon Brooks, Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin are three forwards who can play just about anywhere on the floor. Freshman Tyler Dorsey can play either guard spot, and big man Chris Boucher is a 6-foot-10 senior who can score in the paint and also on the perimeter.

Both Boucher and Jordan Bell run the floor like gazelles and are incredibly active defensively, and point guard Casey Benson’s improved throughout the course of the season. They’ll score points thanks to the talent and Dana Altman’s offensive schemes. But if Oregon can make things happen defensively and get out in transition, they’re an incredibly tough team to beat.

And if they lose?: Utah

Utah’s rise from team that appeared to be headed towards the NCAA tournament bubble to second place in the Pac-12 is due in large part to the development of their perimeter rotation. Brandon Taylor’s embraced the facilitator role down the stretch, and Lorenzo Bonam’s made strides as well. The Runnin’ Utes can surround elite big man Jakob Poeltl with shooters, thus keeping the spacing that ultimately produces quality shots on a regular basis. Utah ranked second in the conference in field goal percentage defense and fourth in three-point percentage defense, and even with the occasional offensive issues they’ve been solid defensively.

Other Contenders:

  • Arizona: The Wildcats are still formidable, even with the end of their streak of two straight Pac-12 regular season titles. Gabe York’s been on fire of late, and with Ryan Anderson and Allonzo Trier leading the way Sean Miller’s team doesn’t lack for talent either.
  • California: The Golden Bears were the team many were waiting for to get going, and down the stretch they did. The return of Tyrone Wallace helped, and they’ve got two of the nation’s top freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb. But they’ve had their issues away from Berkeley, so we’ll see what they can do in Las Vegas.

Sleeper: USC

The Trojans have struggled a bit down the stretch, losing six of their final eight games of the regular season. That being said, USC’s offensive balance and tempo could lend itself to a run in Las Vegas. Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs make up a very good point guard duo, and the Trojans have capable scoring options both in the front court and on the perimeter (six players averaging double figures). They’ll need to keep the turnovers to a minimum, but Andy Enfield’s team is one to keep an eye on.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Colorado: The Buffs are in the field. But a loss to a bad Washington State team could make the wait more nerve-wracking than it should be.
  • Oregon State: The Beavers may have been overlooked by some when it comes to their NCAA tournament hopes. Beat Arizona State, and that should be enough.
  • USC: The Trojans arrive in Las Vegas in solid shape to land a bid. Avoiding a bad loss against UCLA in their tournament opener should be enough to make them feel comfortable.

Pac-12 Player of the Year: Jakob Poeltl, Utah

Poeltl was the preseason pick for the award, and despite Utah’s occasional issues on the perimeter he’s been very consistent for Larry Krystkowiak’s team. In conference play Poeltl averaged 17.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, shooting a Pac-12 best 62.4 percent from the field.

Pac-12 Coach of the Year: Dana Altman, Oregon

Three times in the last four seasons Altman’s won this honor, with this most recent award being for leading the Ducks to a regular season Pac-12 title. Oregon navigated injuries early in the season, most notably the loss of the player expected to run the point in Dylan Ennis, and found their groove in conference play when all healthy pieces were back in the fold. And in a season in which road teams had an incredibly hard time picking up wins on a consistent basis, Oregon was one of two teams to sweep two Pac-12 road trips this season (Utah being the other).

First-Team All Pac-12:

  • Jakob Poeltl, Utah(POY)
  • Andrew Andrews, Washington: Andrews has been the unquestioned leader for a very young squad, and in conference games he averaged 22.3 points (first in Pac-12) and 5.1 assists (third) per game.
  • Gary Payton II, Oregon State: Payton’s was named the league’s best defender for a second straight year, and there’s also his versatility. The senior ranked in the top ten in the league in rebounding (ninth), assists (first), steals (first) and assist-to-turnover ratio (third), and 11th in scoring.
  • Dillon Brooks, Oregon: As good as Brooks was as a freshman, he was even better this season. Averaging 17.1 points per game in Pac-12 play, Brooks was a serious contender for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
  • Ryan Anderson, Arizona: In his lone season on the court for Arizona, the Boston College transfer averaged 16.0 points and 10.2 rebounds per contest. He was one of two Pac-12 players to average a double-double in conference play (Washington State’s Josh Hawkinson).

Second Team All Pac-12:

  • Jaylen Brown, California
  • Rosco Allen, Stanford
  • Dejounte Murray, Washington
  • Elgin Cook, Oregon
  • Josh Scott, Colorado

Defining moment of the season: Oregon ends Arizona’s 49-game home win streak

CBT Prediction: Oregon’s the pick here, but it would not be a surprise if any of the top four teams left Vegas with the crown.

No. 9 Oregon continues to strengthen case for one seed

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Given how unpredictable this season has been, the discussion of which four teams will receive one-seeds in the NCAA tournament has been a lively one. No. 1 Kansas looks to be in good shape, as they’ve won 11 straight games and the outright regular season title in a conference many consider to be the best in the country. After that a number of teams have been mentioned for the top line, and No. 9 Oregon certainly has a good case of their own.

Dana Altman’s Ducks wrapped up the outright Pac-12 regular season title with a 76-66 win at USC Saturday afternoon. Oregon navigated injury issues throughout their non-conference schedule, and against the Trojans they had to navigate a 25-minute delay thanks to a power outage at the Galen Center.

And if those injuries, the most notable of which being Dylan Ennis’ broken foot that ended his season after just two games, couldn’t kill Oregon’s momentum a power outage wasn’t going to either. And the same can be said of the off days experienced by forwards Dylan Brooks and Chris Boucher, who combined for eight points on 2-for-12 shooting from the field.

As has been the case throughout the season, other players stepped forward for Oregon as they fought off a second-half challenge from the Trojans.

Freshman Tyler Dorsey led four Ducks in double figures with 19 points, shooting 8-for-11 from the field, and Elgin Cook added 17 while also grabbing 12 rebounds. And with reserves Dwayne Benjamin and Jordan Bell combining to contribute 24 points and eight rebounds off the bench, Oregon had more than enough to cover for the off days experienced by Brooks and Boucher.

The Ducks have a seven-man rotation, but the versatility possessed by many of those players can make the team appear deeper than they actually are. Brooks, Cook and Benjamin can all score on multiple levels at the forward spots, and Boucher’s even shown the ability to step out away from the basket on occasion. Dorsey’s performed well both on and off the ball in the backcourt, and Casey Benson’s developed into a point guard more willing to take shots that become available to him as the season’s progressed.

That all adds up to a team that is the Pac-12’s best heading into the conference tournament in Las Vegas. And to this point, Oregon’s put together a good case to be on the top line when the NCAA tournament bracket is revealed a week from Sunday.

With their win over USC, Oregon’s now 10-3 against the RPI Top 50 (four wins against teams ranked in the RPI Top 25) and their schedule is ranked as the fifth-toughest in the country. As for the losses to UNLV and Boise State (which is an RPI Top 100 team) in non-conference play, Oregon wasn’t at full strength in either game. Both Bell and Dorsey missed the loss to UNLV due to injury, with Bell making his season debut against Boise State while Dorsey remained sidelined.

They have the computer numbers and the quality wins to back those stats up. And if Oregon can win the Pac-12 tournament, they’ll have an even stronger case for a one-seed in the NCAA tournament.

No. 23 Oregon ends No. 18 Arizona’s 49-game home win streak

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Arriving in Tucson tied for first in the Pac-12, No. 23 Oregon had an opportunity to not only end No. 18 Arizona’s 49-game home win streak but also add another quality win to their résumé. Mission accomplished, as the Ducks rebounded from a slow start to beat the Wildcats 83-75.

What a difference a year makes for the Oregon program, which was blown out at McKale by 34 points last January in the second of three double-digit losses to the eventual Pac-12 champions.

Arizona made 12 of its first 13 shots on the night and looked poised to run away with the game, but their issues with turnovers and defending the Ducks off the bounce caught up to Sean Miller’s team. Arizona turned the ball over ten times in the first half, a big reason why Oregon was able to trim the deficit to three by the intermission. Overall the Wildcats turned the ball over 19 times, with Oregon converting those mistakes into 21 points on the other end of the floor.

Instead of building a solid working margin that one would expect for a team that shot nearly 73 percent from the field, Arizona found itself in a dogfight. And as the turnovers mounted for Arizona so did the paint points given up on the other end, as Oregon outscored the Wildcats 44-26 in the paint. Oregon was able to spread out Arizona and find quality looks around the basket, with many of those opportunities coming by way of dribble penetration.

Dillon Brooks, who poses a matchup problem for many teams as a undersized four, led five Ducks in double figures with 24 points and 22 of Oregon’s 32 made field goals came in the paint. Overall Oregon’s offensive versatility allows them to use multiple players at a variety of positions, making them an incredibly difficult team to defend. And as was the case in Arizona’s loss at USC, this proved to be something Sean Miller’s team could not find the right answers for.

Arizona doesn’t defend at the level that their last three teams did, and without a consistently steady hand at the point they’ve proven to be more turnover prone as well. That combination won’t work if they’re to win another Pac-12 title.

Arizona shot better than 61 percent from the field but their margin for error is slim, as evidenced by how they lost Thursday night. The Wildcats left the door open with some shoddy ball-handling, and Oregon proved more than capable of taking advantage. In ending the nation’s longest home win streak, Oregon strengthened its standing within the Pac-12 while also exorcising some demons from last season.

Elgin Cook, Oregon take care of No. 21 USC

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Entering Thursday road teams had a record of 10-22 in Pac-12 play this season, so it goes without saying that even with the balance getting wins away from home has been very difficult. That trend continued in Eugene, as No. 21 USC played its first game as a ranked team since the 2008-09 season and lost 89-81 at Oregon.

For the Trojans this game was another step in the growth process Andy Enfield’s program is still going through, even with their hot start to conference play. Picking up wins as a surprise team is much different than doing so as a team with a target on its back, and against Oregon the Trojans were unable to string together the stops needed to make a run in the second half.

Oregon, which may not have the depth it envisioned before the season began thanks to the loss of Dylan Ennis for the remainder of the season, still has a host of options capable of putting points on the board. Elgin Cook, one of the Pac-12’s most versatile players, proved especially difficult to slow down as he accounted for 26 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field and 9-for-12 from the foul line.

The senior forward led four Ducks in double figures, and against the USC defense Oregon was able to get into the paint on numerous occasions throughout (43 points in the paint).

The defense will likely be the biggest takeaway from this defeat for USC, which entered the game as one of the conference’s better defensive units to this point in conference play. Even with Bennie Boatwright going for 23 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out and Julian Jacobs adding 18 and five assists, the Trojans showed their youth down the stretch with some questionable decision-making (Jacobs’ technical foul hurt as well).

They’ll get better, and in time USC will have the experience necessary to win games of this magnitude on the road. If anything this result says more about an Oregon team that finally has its rotation set in stone. Dana Altman has a host of options to call upon on the perimeter and in the post, and the presence of interchangeable pieces such as Cook and Dwayne Benjamin makes this group appear deeper than the number of bodies would lead one to believe.

In a conference race that’s wide open now and will likely be throughout the remainder of the season, Oregon strengthened its case as a Pac-12 contender while also bringing USC back to the pack.