LAS VEGAS - Oregon junior forward Dillon Brooks bristled Saturday night at the idea that the loss of senior forward Chris Boucher for the rest of the season with a knee injury might change the Ducks' mindset entering the NCAA Tournament next week.
"What, Chris is going to be out and we're just going to stop winning, stop competing?" Brooks said following a disappointing 83-80 loss to No. 7 Arizona in the Pac-12 title game at T-Mobile Arena. "That's not it."
The Pac-12 player of the year said the goal remains to win the national championship. His defiance and determination matched that of the team during the game. Oregon (29-5) rallied from 14-points down in the second half to nearly steal the title game just hours after learning the bad news regarding Boucher, who injured his knee Friday night in the semifinals against California.
The fact that UO nearly pulled out the win minus Boucher should give the team confidence that it can carry on. However, the reality is that the 6-foot-10, shot erasing big man with three-point range makes it a serious long shot that the Ducks could pull out three or four games like Saturday's to win the national championship.
Boucher is that good. Oregon is that limited without him. The field is too strong, at this point, to even make reaching the Final Four appear to be anything short of daunting.
Boucher left the game in tears after the team's loss. The team felt his pain but didn't blame the loss on his absence.
"Chris is a very talented young man, and he's a big part of our team," UO coach Dana Altman said. "But that's part of any season. I just feel really bad for Chris. He's a wonderful young man, and it's really hard for him. It was a big blow to our team this morning. We were all kind of down, because he's one of the most popular guys on the team. He's the one guy that picks everybody up. He's a wonderful young man."
And a key part to what made the Ducks resemble a national title contender. Boucher is Oregon’s third-leading scorer (11.1 points per game) and No. 2 rebounder (6.1). Oh, and he leads the Pac-12 in blocked shots per game (2.6), which also ranks 17th in the nation.
None of that will be easily replaced. Arizona outrebounded Oregon 35-25 and the Wildcats' bench produced 23 points compared to just three for the Ducks.
The Ducks fortunately have another big to lean on in Kavell Bigby-Williams. He played nine minutes in the first two tournament wins after contributing just 9.5 minutes per game on the season. But he didn't disappoint.
He said he felt confident in his abilities and that he can bring the same energy Boucher does to the floor and gave UO three points, six rebounds and two blocked shots in 14 minutes.
"I thought Kavell played really well," Altman said. "I thought he really gave us a big lift defensively.
Said Bigby-Williams: "I felt like I did okay, but we didn't win the game so I must not have done enough."
Moving forward, Bigby-Williams will need to play like he did on Saturday for the Ducks to survive without Boucher. But clearly it won't be all on him to make this work.
"Coach said it's not just one person," Bigby-Williams said. "Everyone has to step up in different ways, pick up their game."
Oregon will find out its NCAA Tournament seeding fate on Sunday. Any team in its region with adequate big men and a strong bench will present a challenge for the Ducks minus Boucher. More pressure will put upon inconsistent guards Tyler Dorsey, Dylan Ennis and Payton Pritchard to perform in the tournament. Guard Casey Benson also must deliver more than the zero points off the bench he put forth Saturday. The Ducks' starting five won't carry the Ducks beyond maybe the Sweet 16.
Each player be motivated by what happened on Saturday.
"We're going to remember this feeling," Dorsey said. "We're going to bounce back, let it in our rear view mirror and get ready...And our goal is still intact, so we've got to get ready."
Arizona coach Sean Miller said he expected Altman to have his team ready to play in the tournament minus Boucher.
"I wish he'd be able to play for them in the tournament, because I still believe that they can make a run to Phoenix (site of the Final Four)," he said. "But certainly they lost a key player."
A loss likely put reaching Phoenix out of Oregon's reach.