Six weeks ago, if you would have said Oregon basketball would lose by four points in the Sweet 16 to top-seeded Virginia, I would have bet money against you. Could you have blamed me? The Ducks were 10th in the Pac-12 Conference with a 15-12 record.
The odds were stacked against them but the Ducks had their eye on the NCAA Tournament. Oregon earned the conference’s automatic berth by winning the Pac-12 Tournament as the No. 6 seed, to become the team that wasn’t that wasn’t supposed to be in the Big Dance. As the South Region 12-seed, Oregon grinded out a 10-game winning streak with stout defense and a commanding performance by junior guard Payton Pritchard.
The Ducks battled for a chance to go from sweet to elite but ultimately, fell short.
"We were right there, down to the wire," Pritchard said. "We're going to look back at this and it's going to be frustrating for a while now. But for the way we turned around this season and proved all the doubters wrong and won ten straight to make it this far, we're going to look at that as a positive".
Usually when a team holds an opponent to 36 percent shooting, they would lead. Not in this case. The Ducks were far from perfect in the first half; Oregon scored zero points off turnovers, grabbed zero offensive
rebounds, made zero free throws, only took 21 shot attempts, got out-rebounded 20-13, blocked zero shots and gave up six second chance points.
After reading that, you are probably thinking, Oregon was lucky to only be down 30-22 at half.
You’d be correct.
The deficit would have been much larger without senior Ehab Amin, who brought the energy off the bench and lead the team with eight first half points. Although, his most memorable moment from the game came from a flop deserving of an Oscar after being head-butted by Virginia’s Mamadi Diakite, which ended in a double technical.
The Cavaliers closed the half on a 17-4 run that added up to the largest halftime deficit the Ducks have faced in the last 11 games.
The odds were once again stacked the Ducks, as Virginia is 27-0 when leading at the half this season and has won 60 straight games when leading at the half.
However, this Oregon team is used to unlikely odds, as the only double-digit seed in the Sweet 16, Oregon had 20 minutes to make history. No 12 seeded team has ever defeated a top seed in NCAA Tournament play.
The Ducks weren’t going down without a fight, opening the second half with a mini 5-0 run thanks to a Paul White deep three and a Francis Okoro offensive rebound that led he converted to a basket.
Oregon's 18-14 edge on the boards, a major halftime adjustment, helped close the deficit. Freshman Louis King continued his clutch shooting, leading UO with 16 points on 5-of-12. He also added four rebounds.
Pritchard continued his tear, scoring 11 points with seven rebounds and four assists. The junior rose in Oregon record books; becoming fourth in UO season assists and 19th in UO career scoring.
Ultimately, down the stretch Oregon missed ample chances to take the victory and relyed too much on the three, missing a flurry of shots in the last five minutes. Virginia sealed the win and advanced to the Elite Eight to face Purdue. Ty Jerome scored 13 points to lead four Cavaliers in double-figures.
In his last game as a Duck, senior Paul White scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds.
"The character that we showed speaks more volumes than the results that happened tonight," White said. "We really slugged it out and I think this team going forward is going to be a tremendous team".
After losing star freshman Bol Bol to a season ending injury, overcoming injuries to King and Kenny Wooten, Oregon finished the 2018-19 season with a 25-13 record and as the last Pac-12 team standing in the NCAA Tournament. No Oregon coach has more victories than coach Dana Altman (235 wins, 9 seasons), who also signed a contract extension through 2025-26. Oregon could return as many as eight players (Bol and King have not declared) and add a top 10 recruiting class.
Sounds like a victory to me.