The madness and drama continues for Oregon into late March. The No.12 seed Oregon Ducks upset No.5 seed Wisconsin, 72-54, extending their nine-game winning streak and advancing to the round of 32.
I guess what happens in Las Vegas doesn’t always stay in Las Vegas. Oregon is now 6-0 in first round NCAA Tournament games under coach Dana Altman. Once hoping for an NIT Tournament invite, improbably, the Ducks possess a shot at the Sweet 16 after securing the conference’s automatic NCAA bid by winning four-straight games in the Pac-12 Tournament.
"You know, we just weren’t on the same page,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said of Oregon’s recent surge. “And how quickly it changed.”
Once again, Oregon’s defensive prowess disrupted the opponent’s best player. The Ducks crowded, trapped and double-teamed Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, making it extremely difficult for the Badgers to get the ball to the four-year starting All-American. Oregon held Happ, maybe one of the best players in the entire tournament, to only four points on 1-of-3 shooting in the first half and 12 total points, eight rebounds, zero assists and five turnovers.
“I thought our guys really were aware of (Happ),” Altman said. “And then Kenny (Wooten) got a couple of his shots, and I think that helped us, put a thought in his mind.”
The first 20 minutes of Oregon’s first round NCAA Tournament game versus Wisconsin was as advertised; a tenacious defensive war, resulting in a 25-25 tie going into halftime.
Pac-12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player Payton Pritchard brought his hot streak into the NCAA Tournament. The junior put on a show and etched his name into Oregon history books; rising to fourth in UO career assists and in the Top 20 for career scoring.
Pritchard took command, impacting both sides of the floor; fearlessly driving to the basket, sinking three-pointers while also forcing turnovers and fighting for 50-50 balls. He led all scorers with 19 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds.
Pritchard and freshman Louis King had 19 of the team's 25 first half points.
Enter perfect Paul White and X-factor Kenny Wooten.
After hurting his shoulder in a collision in the first half, Wooten started the second half in a big way; a vicious put-back dunk followed by another nasty dunk. It was only the beginning for the 6-foot-9 sophomore’s first NCAA Tournament game; his alley-oops and posturizing blocks changed the game. Wooten finished with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, six rebounds and four recorded blocks (but I think it was five).
"I better see him on SportsCenter," senior White said of Wooten’s performance.
White had an uncharacteristic zero point first half before heating up in the second to score 14 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting.
King finished with 17 points and provided huge bursts of momentum with his 3-of-3 shooting from beyond the arc.
Oregon executed its game plan, forcing 13 Wisconsin turnovers (entered the game averaging 9.5) and scoring 12 points off those turnovers. Not to be overlooked, the Badgers shot an atrocious 20 percent from beyond the arc, going 6-of-30 for the game.
Oregon will get a shot at its seventh trip to the Sweet 16. The 13-seeded UC Irvine Anteaters are the only thing that stand in the Ducks way. UC Irvine is also fresh off an upset victory (over No. 4 seed Kansas State) and on its own winning streak (17 games).
“We really jump on people,” Pritchard said. “I know (UC Irvine) is hot…We are going to be ready to play.“