Two of the hottest teams are about to meet in the round of 32.
Oregon is about as tough a 12-seed as you can draw in the NCAA Tournament. The Pac-12 Tournament champion Ducks are on a 9-game winning streak after bouncing the Wisconsin Badgers out of the Big Dance. Defeating the UC Irvine Anteaters sends Oregon to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time.
UC Irvine has won 17 games straight and successfully pulled off a big first round win over No.4 seed Kansas State.
Fun Fact: UC Irvine’s win over Kansas State was the biggest upset, by seed, so far and the Anteaters’ first NCAA Tournament win in program history.
Did you know? UC Irvine is the only team from California standing in the NCAA Tournament.
Records: Oregon (24-12), UC Irvine (31-15)
All Hail Dana Altman: The Ducks are 6-0 in first round NCAA Tournament games under coach Dana Altman. With one more win, Dana Altman will tie Ernie Kent as the winningest coach in Oregon history (235 wins). Oregon and Altman have finalized a contract extension through the 2025-26 season.
Defensive surge: In the last nine games, Oregon is holding opponents to shooting 34.6 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from three-point range. Also, the Ducks have held opponents to 62 points or less during the winning streak, except the overtime win against Arizona State in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.
High Flying Ducks:
During the nine-game winning streak, the Ducks are outscoring their opponents by nearly 18 points per game.
Kenny Wooten swatted his way to four blocked shots in back-to-back games; the Pac-12 Tournament title game and NCAA Tournament opening round. The 6-foot-9 sophomore was the X-factor in Oregon’s win over Wisconsin; his alley-oops and posturizing blocks changed the game.
Wooten finished the tournament with 10 blocks, a new Pac-12 record and the Ducks set the Pac-12 Tournament record for blocks with 23.
Payton Pritchard has taken command of Oregon. The junior guard is averaging over 16 points per game with 47 assists and 24 steals during Oregon’s nine-game winning streak. His confidence soared vs. Wisconsin, leading all scorers with 19 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds.
Louis King provides huge bursts of momentum with his clutch shooting. Against the Badgers he shot a perfect 3-of-3 from beyond the arc and finished the game with 17 points.
The 6-foot-9 forward scored in double figures in all but two Pac-12 games to become the No. 2 freshman scorer in conference play, averaging 14.5 points per game.
Anteaters to keep an eye on:
UC Irvine won the Big West championship with stingy on-ball defense that encourages the opponent to miss a lot of shots. UCI is top five nationally in field goal percentage defense and allows just 63.3 points per game.
Oregon will have its work cut our for them in the race for rebounds. The Anteaters are plus 7.1 in the rebounding margin.
The Anteaters have one of the deepest benches and most experienced rosters in the sport. Nine different players have led the team in scoring this season and eight players average over five points per game.
UCI’s best scorers are Max Hazzard and Evan Leonard who both average double- figures with 12.5 and 11.1 points per game, respectively.
6-foot-1 guard Evan Leonard was the star against K-State, scoring 19 points on just seven shots from the field, and a perfect 9-for-9 at the foul line.
Quotable: “We really jump on people,” Pritchard said. “I know (UC Irvine) is hot…We are going to be ready to play.“
How and where to watch
Time: Sunday, March 24, approximately 6:40 p.m.
Where: SAP Center, San Jose, California