Final Four

First Herbert, then Ionescu: The time for Oregon Duck titles is now

First Herbert, then Ionescu: The time for Oregon Duck titles is now

“Loss fatigue”… Have you heard of it? Some Oregon Ducks fans may be currently experiencing it like a persistent cold after Oregon women’s basketball came * this close * to a chance at its first national title. After missing 11 of their final 12 baskets, Oregon was inches away from beating top-overall seeded Baylor, who advanced to beat Notre Dame to claim the crown.

Sigh.

No doubt the Ducks community is very proud of the women’s team, who appeared in the program's first Final Four. However, * this close * doesn’t equal a national championship trophy. The University of Oregon hasn’t won a national championship in a sport besides track and field, cross country or golf since 1939 when men’s basketball won the first-ever NCAA Tournament.

Always the shiny (green, yellow, white, chrome, etc) contenders, never the champs?

2019 is the year that gives Oregon fans an excuse to dream of rings.

Two Oregon star athletes passed on the opportunity to turn professional and earn a paycheck because they thought the opportunities at Oregon were greater. It takes a certain player mold to take that risk and the Ducks are blessed with two elite athletes who could lead their teams to great success.

Yes, the paychecks were vastly different amounts, but guard Sabrina Ionescu and quarterback Justin Herbert both decided to walk away from the money on the table with the hope to accomplish more in Eugene, Oregon.

Projected to be the No. 1 pick in WNBA draft, Ionescu had 24 hours following Oregon’s loss to declare for the draft. The junior is chasing her own records already; holding the NCAA record for career triple-doubles with 18 and earning back-to-back Pac-12 Conference player of the year and first-team All-American honors.

Smashing goals is what she does. Her goal when she signed with Oregon as ESPN’s No. 4 ranked recruit was to change the program. The 5-foot-11 guard dreamed the Ducks would sell out Matthew Knight Arena and battle with the NCAA’s best on a national stage. She’s checked both those boxes.

With one more accolade in mind, the Oregon star opted to stay at Oregon.

“I think she’s left her mark,” twin brother Eddy Ionescu said. “Now her only goal is to win an NCAA championship for her team and the university."

With Ionescu’s return, Oregon has certainly cemented its foothold in the national spotlight and could enter the 2019-20 season ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll.

Her influence is larger than rankings and she is one-of-a-kind in the Oregon community. Her relatability is palpable and personality vibrant; kids, men and women wait after Oregon games for autographs and photos.

Those who chanted “One more year!” to Ionescu as the Ducks cut the nets in the Moda Center after winning the Portland Regional, got their wish.

“We have unfinished business. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart,” Ionescu wrote in the Players Tribune. “My teammates and I, our coaches, our fans, this program — we’re not going on a ‘run,’ you know what I mean?? We’re not doing one of those things where, like, a team appears out of the blue, on the backs of a few good players, and then makes some noise for a season or two before heading back underground.

“Nah. This isn’t that. We’re building something special in Eugene.”

Ionescu’s return solidifies that the Oregon women’s basketball program has elevated it’s standard and discarded its “newbie” title among the nation’s elite. The Ducks return most of their team and a very determined Ionescu… The countdown to next season is on.

The countdown to watch Herbert, the 6-foot-6, 235-pound passer with the powerful right arm and sneaky fast wheels, is much shorter.

As a projected top 10 draft pick, why resist the NFL and give up literally millions of dollars? As Herbert said, “Nothing could pull me away from the opportunities that we have in front of us.”

Herbert took a risk by returning. The 2019 quarterback class is viewed as relatively weak and Herbert’s measurables alone would have made him one of the first quarterbacks off the board. However, there may be some reward for his risk, as some teams are already pondering if it’s worth it to wait to draft a quarterback in 2020.

Freakishly fast and athletic, returning for his senior season gives Herbert the opportunity to further develop his decision-making, accuracy and improve as an NFL prospect. 

The Eugene-native has a chance to play with his younger brother Patrick Herbert, a four-star tight end. At 6-foot-5, 225-pounds, freshman Patrick Herbert’s strength is catching the ball in traffic. You could be hearing a lot of “Herbert to Herbert” ringing through Autzen Stadium.

[READ: Takeaways from Oregon football Hillsboro scrimmage: changed physiques, freshmen highlights and Duck “celebrities”]

Herbert’s decision to return provides him a chance to lead the Ducks back to national prominence and change the course of his legacy. A once dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate, he wasn’t even an All-Pac-12 honorable mention pick in 2018.

Oregon is likely be the favorite in the north division and the conference for 2019. The Ducks enter year two under head coach Mario Cristobal with a veteran offensive line, running back weapons CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, an influx of young talent at receiver, eight returning starters on defense and a few extraordinary freshman who could make instant impacts. Oregon's leading tacker each of the last three seasons, inside linebacker Troy Dye, will also return for his senior season. 

I’m not predicting that Oregon will win the National Championship next season, a Pac-12 title ring is much more likely. However, the urgency is on for Oregon football to take the next step and to make the most of Herbert’s senior season in the same way Oregon maximized Marcus Mariota’s return five years ago.

Mariota elected to stay for his redshirt junior season and subsequently won the program’s first Heisman Trophy, led Oregon to a Pac-12 title, a Rose Bowl victory and a trip to the National Championship game. Once again, the Ducks were * this close * to taking the first ever college football playoff crown.

Is 2019 the year Oregon loses * this close * from its vocabulary? Is 2019 the year Ducks fans can burn all the signs that have the “O” logo with “number of national championships” below it?

The answer is yes if you ask Ionescu or Herbert… and that is probably the cure to any “loss fatigue” you are feeling.

Despite defeat, newcomer Ducks are built to last

Despite defeat, newcomer Ducks are built to last

Oregon entered it’s first ever Final Four as the “unproven” new kid on the block and an 8.5-point underdog. UConn, Notre Dame and Baylor are Final Four perennial powerhouses and have won eight of the past 10 national titles. Before 2017, Oregon had never reached the Elite Eight.

The Ducks’ season ended in the national semifinals to Baylor, 72-67, in a gritty battle of contrast in styles that featured 12 ties and 12 lead changes. However, despite defeat, the back-to-back Pac-12 regular season champions proved that not only do they belong among the best in the nation, the Ducks are built to last.

To get to Tampa Bay, Oregon (33-5) broke through the Final Four barrier, in coach Kelly Graves’ fifth season, by upsetting two-time defending national runner up No. 1 seed Mississippi State in the Portland Regional.

[READ: Twitter reacts to Oregon’s 72-67 loss to Baylor in the Final Four]

Despite his pregame message to his team to “have fun," Graves had a plan against the Bears (36-1), who had a major size advantage over the Ducks.

In the first two quarters, Oregon was able to limit Baylor’s high-low game and attempts to hammer the ball deep in toward the basket to 20 points in the paint. The Ducks, the best 3-point shooting team in the country, leaned on their strength, making 8-of-17 (47 percent) from beyond the arc. 

Shockingly, guard Sabrina Ionescu and forward Ruthy Hebard did not score in the first quarter. Ionescu heated up in the second quarter to score 12 points, including a four-point play to send Oregon into the locker room with a 34-33 halftime lead.

The battle of the Bears’ size and the Ducks’ deep strokes was as good as advertised. In the first half alone, the tight game had five lead changes and five ties.

The Ducks opened the second half with a couple of made three-pointers, but Baylor answered with an 8-0 run to surge ahead 45-40. Both teams shined doing what they do best. Through three quarters, Oregon scored 30 points from three-pointers and Baylor scored 36 points in the paint. Baylor did not score a three-pointer in the game, attempting only three.

In the fourth quarter, the Ducks put on a pick-and-roll clinic before going cold at the wrong time.

Forward Satou Sabally tied the game with a clutch three-pointer with 1:20 left to play in the game. Oregon missed on the next possession and was forced to foul. Five days after making their last seven field-goal attempts to beat Mississippi State, the Ducks missed 11 of their last 12 from the floor, sealing the victory for Baylor to advance to the National Championship game.

Despite going 0-for-7 in the fourth quarter, Ionescu lead the team with 18 points. Sabally added 16 points and forward Erin Boley scored 14 points.

It was a tremendous game competed between two of the top programs and the Ducks are here to stay. Whether Ionescu declares for the WNBA Draft or returns for her senior season, the Oregon women’s basketball program has elevated it’s standard and discarded its newbie title among the nation’s elite. With two seniors graduating and a strong recruiting class, Graves has taken the Ducks to new heights and the countdown to next season is on.  

"We’ve got a lot coming back," Graves said. "This is gonna be a team that's loaded."

Twinning with Sabrina Ionescu Pt. 3: "Morale is high" in Tampa Bay

Twinning with Sabrina Ionescu Pt. 3: "Morale is high" in Tampa Bay

Eddy Ionescu, Sabrina's twin brother, takes fans along in his journey to Oregon’s first Women’s Final Four in Tampa Bay, Florida through videos and photos on NBC Sports Northwest’s Instagram and Twitter.

"There are Duck fans literally everywhere," Eddy said. "On the plane with me, all around here! Morale is super high."

Eddy booked his return flight to Eugene, Oregon on Monday, in confidence in his sister and the Ducks. 

After transferring from City College of San Francisco,  Eddy is now Sabrina’s roommate in Eugene. Eddy stands at 6-foot-5, six inches taller than his sister and 18 minutes younger. The shooting guard hopes to walk on the Ducks men’s basketball team, loves Oregon already and thought it would rain more in Eugene. Of course, the two hoopers live a stone’s throw away from Matthew Knight Arena.

Eddy’s unique perspective gives incredible insight into Sabrina’s past as a first-generation Romanian and future, as she weighs the decision to go professional or not.

In part one of this series, we get to know Sabrina through her twin’s eyes via rapid fire questions.

In part two, Eddy helps answer the question "what's next for Sabrina?"

Twinning with Sabrina Ionescu Pt. 2: "She's left her mark" but what's next?

Twinning with Sabrina Ionescu Pt. 2: "She's left her mark" but what's next?

Confetti fell as the Oregon women’s basketball team cut down the nets, grinning ear to ear after earning the program’s first ever trip to the Final Four. The Ducks (33-4) beat Mississippi State in the Portland Regional to book their tickets to Tampa Bay, Florida.

That’s when it started.

“One more year!” chants echoed through Moda Center from loud and proud Ducks fans.

It’s no secret that quickly after Oregon’s run for a National Championship, junior Sabrina Ionescu has a professional decision to make. You may have already read the Duck star guard told reporters still has “no idea” whether or not she’ll enter WNBA Draft, which occurs in six days.

“I don’t really like to talk to her too much about it to be honest because there are so many people that constantly ask her that question,” twin brother Eddy Ionescu said. “Whatever she does, I know our family and the community will be in her corner 100 percent of the way."

As her twin, roommate and best friend, Eddy’s insight gives a unique perspective on Sabrina’s future as the deadline to declare for the WNBA Draft creeps in. The two-time Pac-12 Conference player of the year has 48 hours after the National Championship game to make her intentions known.

[READ: Twinning with Sabrina Ionescu Pt. 1: Rapid fire with her brother]

Did Eddy always think his sister would be the probable top overall pick in the WNBA Draft? No. The twins are first-generation Romanian, their parents didn’t play sports and competition was slim growing up in Walnut Creek, California. Their love for basketball bloomed on a playground out of an attempt from their father to wear out the energetic twins after a long day of work. Eddy and Sabrina averaged 30-40 points per game in middle school. If your last name wasn’t Ionescu, you weren’t scoring.

Watching Sabrina’s game transition to high school, Eddy began to realize her potential.

“I just kept setting that bar higher and higher for her and she kept shooting it out of the water,” Eddy said.

Eddy played basketball for two seasons at City College of San Francisco before transferring to University of Oregon, where the 6-foot-5 guard hopes to walk on to the UO men’s team. Every morning right out of bed, the twins shoot together in the gym before any team workouts or class. Two things have shocked Eddy about Eugene, Oregon; he thought it would rain more and his sensational sister.

“Now that I get to see, hear and watch her do her thing; it’s absolutely breathtaking,” Eddy said. “It’s sometimes surreal, I don’t believe that the things that she does is possible."

As one of college basketball’s most dynamic all-around stars, Ionescu is basically chasing her own records at this point. Her staggering numbers have led to back-to-back First-Team All-American honors and 18 career triple-doubles, the most in men’s and women’s college basketball history. Even more wild? She has a year of eligibility remaining.

What more could the National Player of the Year candidate accomplish in her senior year at Oregon? Her goal when she signed with Oregon as ESPN’s No. 4 ranked recruit was to change the program. The 5-foot-11 guard dreamed the Ducks would sell out Matthew Knight Arena and battle with the NCAA’s best on a national stage. She’s checked both those boxes; The women’s team owned the first sell out of the season for the Civil War in February and is taking on No. 1 overall seed Baylor in the Final Four on Friday.

“I think she’s left her mark,” Eddy said. “Now her only goal is to win an NCAA championship for her team and the university."

Considering the incredible competitor smashes every goal she’s set, I wouldn’t bet against Sabrina. But regardless of this weekend’s outcome, with or without a national title on her resume, she has to decide if her legacy at Oregon has come to a close.

“There are obvious benefits to both,” Eddy said. “She can stay at school with her friends and have the full college experience. Then as a hooper, your dream is always to play professionally, so once you make it to the point where you get to make that decision to stay or go, it’s a big deal."

Play for free until someone is willing to pay you… Right?

Maybe that’s true for men, but last year’s top women’s rookie salary was $52,564, and on average, WNBA players make $71,635. That’s Sabrina’s money to take and it’s certainly better than nothing, but the amount seems much less than what she’s worth.

However, if she continues to build her personal brand, there may be more cash in endorsement deals (cough, Nike, cough), while still getting to play the game she loves, battling to be the best in the nation with her friends and earn her master's degree (which Coach Graves said she’s been accepted into) at Oregon.

Ionescu, who is currently signed up for UO spring classes, could seek a loss of value and/or catastrophic injury insurance policy, which would relatively keep her safe if her value fell in the draft.

Nationally, she’s become a sensation or as Steph Curry calls her, the “walking triple-double." She’s beginning to use her platform as an outlet to voice her desire for equal sports opportunities, calling attention to the lack of women’s coverage. It feels like her buzz is just beginning, with a major opportunity to grow. 

Will her brand flourish more in the WNBA or as a top NCAA competitor at “Nike University?"

If your ultimate dream is to be a pro, why risk a potential injury?

If you’ve accomplished all your goals, is it time to move on or set the bar higher?

You and I might think we know the answers to these questions. But it’s Sabrina’s decision, not ours and not Eddy’s, who booked his return flight from Florida for Monday in confidence in the Ducks. 

“The only advice that I gave her was to take her time making the decision. She needs to look at both options,” Eddy said. “At the end of the day I just want her to make her own decision with what makes her happy."

Stay tuned as Eddy plans to take fans along in his journey to Tampa Bay, Florida through videos and photos on NBC Sports Northwest’s Instagram and Twitter.

Twinning with Sabrina Ionescu Pt. 1: Rapid fire with her brother

Twinning with Sabrina Ionescu Pt. 1: Rapid fire with her brother

Sabrina Ionescu’s resume is long and exceptional: Two-time Pac-12 Conference player of the year; back-to-back First-Team All-American; National Player of the Year candidate; NCAA career triple-double record holder (18); probable No. 1 overall WNBA pick and owns too many UO program records to count.

The junior is a brilliant mentor in the University of Oregon community, a strong Christian, a devoted daughter and a twin.

Her twin title, obviously not chosen, is just as prominent in her life as any of the other accolades. After transferring from City College of San Francisco, twin brother Eddy is now Sabrina’s roommate in Eugene, Oregon. Eddy stands at 6-foot-5, six inches taller than his sister and 18 minutes younger. The shooting guard hopes to walk on the Ducks men’s basketball team, loves Oregon already and thought it would rain more in Eugene. Of course, the two hoopers live a stone’s throw away from Matthew Knight Arena.

Eddy’s unique perspective gives incredible insight into Sabrina’s past as a first-generation Romanian and future, as she weighs the decision to go professional or not. In part one of this series, we get to know Sabrina through her twin’s eyes via rapid fire questions.

[READ: Twinning with Sabrina Ionescu Pt. 2: "She's left her mark" but what's next?]

Stay tuned as Eddy plans to take fans along in his journey to Oregon’s first Women’s Final Four in Tampa Bay, Florida through videos and photos on NBC Sports Northwest’s Instagram and Twitter.

Does Sabrina have any pregame traditions? 

EDDY: She always has to take a nap before a game.

Even early and super late games?

EDDY: Every game unless it’s like at 11 a.m.

What is your sister’s junk food weakness?

EDDY: Ice cream.

What is the hashtag that best describes Sabrina?

EDDY: #Franchise

Her most used emoji?

EDDY: Crying laughing face

Go to dance move?

EDDY, laughs: Sabrina doesn’t dance.

Favorite cartoon character?

EDDY: Minnie

Why does she wear number 20?

EDDY: It was one of the first numbers given to her. So she stuck with it.

Who is better at singing karaoke?

EDDY: Me, absolutely.

What is your go-to song?

EDDY: Gosh, that’s a hard one. Michael Buble.

Did you know he’s coming to perform in Portland?

EDDY: YES! I know, I know. I talked to Sabrina about going.

Who takes more selfies? 

EDDY: Sabrina.

You used to communicate basketball plays to one another in Romanian, are you still fluent in Romanian?

EDDY: We still are fluent in Romanian and we still speak to each other in Romanian. In terms of basketball, I don’t speak to her while she’s playing in Romanian. Not anymore, at least.

What’s the best slang term?

EDDY: It’s kind of hard to say, but in English it means the little bug doesn’t go to the water often. Which means you can’t continue to do a bad habit over an over again because eventually it’ll bite you in the ass. By the way, you can take out the word “ass” in this interview.

Hell no, I like the personality and realness. 3 words, describe your sister, go!

EDDY: Funny, competitive and enthusiastic.

Who would win in a free throw competition?

EDDY: Me.

What about a 3-pt competition?

EDDY: It depends on the day. It’s about 50-50. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

Sounds like you two are very competitive. When was the last time you played HORSE?

EDDY: Not too long ago. Maybe like a month ago.

Who won?

EDDY: I won the first game, she won the second game and we couldn’t play a third because we were in Matthew Knight Arena and they had to turn the lights off.

Who is cleaner?

EDDY: We are both pretty clean. I would say me, though. I’m kind of OCD.

Steph Curry calls Sabrina the walking triple-double, what do you call her? 

EDDY, laughs: My sister.

What does she call you?

EDDY: She calls me “Ed."

A game of pickup basketball and you can pick literally anyone in the world, who is first?

EDDY: First in the world, hmmm… I’d probably take Kobe Bryant.

Where does Sabrina land on the list?

EDDY: In the starting five. She would be my point guard.

Sabrina Ionescu adds another notch to her belt: AP All-American First Team honors

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USA Today Images

Sabrina Ionescu adds another notch to her belt: AP All-American First Team honors

After leading the Oregon women’s basketball team to its first Final Four in program history, Sabrina Ionescu has something else to celebrate.

The Oregon guard was one of five players named to the Associated Press’ All-American First Team on Monday. Ionescu received 26 of 28 votes from the 28-member panel of national media. 

Ionescu was named Most Outstanding Player this weekend at the Portland Regional after scoring 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in the No. 2 Ducks 88-84 win over No. 1 Mississippi State in front of a crowd of more than 11,500 at the Moda Center. 

The two-time reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year threw up a three-point dagger with 1:12 left in the game to clinch the win for No. 2 Oregon over No. 1 Mississippi State and send the Ducks to their first Final Four in Tampa, Florida.

Ionescu leads the Ducks in scoring with 19.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 8.1 assists per game. She also holds the Division I single-season record with 18 triple doubles--the most of any NCAA player in history. 

The triple-double star will look to lead Oregon to another first on Friday, a win in the Final Four and the school's first appearance in the national championship game. But first, Ionescu and Co. will have to go through the winner of Monday's Baylor-Iowa game. Tip off time has yet to be determined. 

Gonzaga and Mark Few fail to close in historic season, lose 71-65 to North Carolina

Gonzaga and Mark Few fail to close in historic season, lose 71-65 to North Carolina

GLENDALE, Ariz - Gonzaga coach Mark Few came so close to bringing a national championship to the Pacific Northwest, an area the Creswell, Ore., native has called home his entire life. 

But in the final minutes of Monday night's national championship game, his Bulldogs couldn't quite find the mettle to overcome a North Carolina team that forcibly, but narrowly, tiptoed through the best the Northwest had to offer during the Final Four at University of Phoenix Stadium. 

The No. 1 Tar Heels, who rank among the bluest of blue bloods this sport has to offer, won their sixth national title, 71-65, just two nights after escaping, 77-76 over Oregon, Few's alma mater and the last Northwest program to win a national (1939). 

The heartbreak following the loss was real for Few and his team. This was Gonzaga's chance to do something many thought was close to impossible - win a national title as a mid-major out of the WCC

“I’m hoping it will settle in and we will feel better tomorrow and in the days to come," Few said. "It doesn’t feel that great right now for a couple reasons. You’re right there on the brink of a national championship. You want to give that to your team and your program. But at the same time, the other thing that just crushes you is that you don’t get to coach these guys ever again. That was going to happen whether we won or lost, so that’s the one that kind of really hurts. But I couldn’t be prouder."

Gonzaga had ample opportunity to pull this game out. The Bulldogs led 65-63 in a game that was about as appealing to watch as bricks being laid. In this game, the bricks were being launched toward the rims at an alarming rate. 

North Carolina (33-7) made just 26 of 73 shots (35.6 percent) and shot 4 of 27 from three-point range. Gonzaga (37-2) shot 33.9 percent on 20-of-59 shooting and committed 14 turnovers, compared to a stellar four for North Carolina.

"First of all, they were excellent tonight, defensively," Few said. "They disrupted us. They climbed up into us, kind of drove our offense outside the normal area, as far as our wing touches and our entries. And we didn't do a good job of probably executing that."

Yet, there the Bulldogs were, leading with 1:53 remaining in the game. From that point on, however, Gonzaga appeared to be stuck in mud, especially guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who had given Gonzaga the lead with a jumper. 

First, NC forward Justin Jackson tied the game on a jump shot before seconds later being fouled by Williams-Goss. Jackson made a free throw that gave NC a 66-65 lead it would never relinquish. Williams-Goss went on to miss a jumper that led to Tar Heels center Kennedy Meeks scoring on a short shot to give North Carolina a 68-65 lead with 26 seconds remaining. 

Williams-Goss came back again to try to tie the game but Meeks blocked his shot and that led to a breakaway dunk by Jackson to make it 70-65 with 12 seconds remaining. 

Gonzaga's final possession resulted in a turnover and that was that.  

In Williams-Goss' defense, he did sprain his ankle late in the game.

"Sprained it pretty good," he said. "It was the same ankle that I hurt last game so it was still a little bit weak. Stepped on it wrong and rolled it. But my adrenaline was rushing. Like I said last game, nothing was going to stop me from finishing out this game. So that's what happened."

A lot of interesting things happened for both teams, mostly mediocre. This was not a well played game. The officiating seemed to be a bit whistle-happy, calling 44 personal fouls with 27 foul calls in the first half. However, Few offered no excuses in that area. 

"I had no issue whatsoever," he said. "I thought they did a fabulous job. And I'm on the losing end. And it's just not an easy game to ref. And we're throwing the ball inside. They're throwing the ball inside. Our guards go downhill. Their guards go downhill. So, I thought they were great."

Gonzaga shouldn't blame anyone but itself for the loss. The Bulldogs, like the Ducks two nights prior, blew several opportunities late with their respective games against North Carolina on the line. 

What maybe mattered most in both cases was that the experience of the Tar Heels, who lost last year's national championship game, 77-74, to Villanova on a buzzer-beater. 

North Carolina, who called this season the "Redemption Tour," has now been to 20 Final Fours. Oregon - one in 78 years. Gonzaga - its first ever. 

The Bulldogs could have other looks at claiming a national championship. Maybe next time they will cash in. Maybe not. Either way, this season made it clear that a team from a second-tier conference could compete with the best of the best. 

"How many teams would take 37-2, league champs, national runner-up?" Gonzaga guard Jordan Matthews said. "We broke that glass ceiling everybody said we couldn't get over. Everybody was saying how the Zags couldn't get to the Final Four. So we did that."

And then some. 

A dejected Oregon team searches for solace after a great season

A dejected Oregon team searches for solace after a great season

GLENDALE, Ariz. - The hushed whispers that floated throughout a disappointed Oregon locker room spoke louder than the often inaudible words that escaped the lips of several dejected Ducks players.

UO knew they it had allowed a big moment to slip away during a gut-wrenching, yet typically spirited effort that fell short, 77-76 to North Carolina Saturday night in the Final Four at University of Phoenix Stadium.  

"It hurts because we were right there," UO guard Tyler Dorsey said. 

Right there to steal what would have been the greatest win in program history and set up an all-Northwest championship game Monday night with No.1 Gonzaga (37-1). 

Instead, the Ducks (33-6), who rallied back from a double-digit deficit to nearly win fell short and had only themselves to blame. 

"We fought so hard," UO coach Dillon Brooks said. "We fought together. We just couldn't pull this game out."

North Carolina (32-7) missed four free throws in the final six seconds and UO failed to secure an offensive rebound and a chance to make a game-winning shot. Taking the loss the hardest was forward Jordan Bell, who shed tears as he blamed himself for not finding a way to wrestle one of those failed rebound attempts away from North Carolina, which ran out the clock after the second critical offensive rebound.

"I should have blocked out better," Bell said. "I've done that a million times."

Bell ran through the scenarios that could have followed had he grabbed a rebound. They included one of the Ducks' scorers winning the game at the buzzer. But nobody on the team blamed Bell, who battled hard inside all night against a much bigger North Carolina team, led by Kennedy Meeks' 25 points and 14 rebounds, the final one icing the game. 

"Meeks bullied us tonight," freshman point guard Payton Pritchard said. 

Guard Casey Benson actually blamed himself.

"Yeah, I mean the first (rebound), it just got tipped out and they got it," he said. "And the second one, they got it again. So I wish I could've dove and gotten it. That was on me."

This was on nobody in particular. The game was filled with a zillion near misses and mistakes by both teams. 

According to Pritchard, the plan, following the final free throws by North Carolina's Joel Berry II, was to pop Dorsey out for a jumper if the Tar Heels guard made the final attempt. If Berry missed, which he did, Pritchard said that whoever got the ball was going to have to go down court and make something happen. Neither chance ever came for UO. 

"This is a tough moment," Brooks said. 

Brooks wasn't there to help Bell on the boards after fouling out with about five minutes remaining. He quietly lamented how much it hurt him to be on the bench rather than helping his team when it needed him the most. 

"I feel like I let my team down," Brooks said. 

UO coach Dana Altman expressed pride in his team. The way they battled. The way they fought. But the team didn't play great basketball as it had during last week's upset over No. 1 Kansas in the Elite Eight. 

"They're going to look back and it's going to hurt because we didn't play very well at times," Altman said. "And our turnovers (16, 12 in the first half) were bad and we made some really bad decisions and quick 3s."

Despite the loss, this was the greatest season Oregon has had since winning the 1939 national title. The program has been on a steady upward trajectory under Altman the past four years. The Ducks could easily be back here again, and soon. 

"We're definitely on the rise," Brooks said. "It's been a great season. We played really hard, we played for each other. This team will go down as one of the best [Oregon teams] in history."

No doubt. 

Oregon's comeback falls short, lose 77-76 to North Carolina

Oregon's comeback falls short, lose 77-76 to North Carolina

North Carolina 77, Oregon 76 

How Oregon lost: No. 3 Oregon (33-6) had a chance to steal this game in the end but twice failed to secure an offensive rebound after No. 1 North Carolina (32-7) missed four free throws in the final six seconds of this Final Four matchup Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks missed two free throws with the Tar Heels up 77-76 with 5.8 seconds remaining but Theo Pinson grabbed the rebound and got the ball to Joel Berry II, who was then fouled by Tyler Dorsey with 4.0 seconds remaining.

Berry then proceeded to miss two free throws, but this time it was Meeks who who grabbed the rebound and got the ball to Pinson, who ran out the clock for the win. 

That ended what had been a gutty performance by the outmatched Ducks, who were down by as much as 10 in the second half. But despite poor overall performances by Dorsey and Dillon Brooks, the Ducks were able to battle back and had a chance to win it late. 

North Carolina will face No. 1 Gonzaga in the championship game. The Bulldogs won 77-74 over No. 6 South Carolina in the day's first game.

The first half produced some odd basketball. Oregon struggled to hold on to the ball while NC couldn't make shots. At one point early, UO had committed six turnovers and NC was shooting 17.6 percent from the field. Oregon fought of its turnoves to build a 30-22 lead with 4:07 remaining in the half.  The Tar Heels then began making shots but Oregon continued to cough uup the ball. The Ducks finished with 12 turnovers in the first half. NC raised its shooting percentage to 40 percent by making seven of their last eight attempts, and consequently went on a 9-4 run to close the half and lead 39-36. 

Dorsey, clearly disrupted by NC's perimeter length on defense, missed all four of his shot attempts in the first half to finish with four points on free throws. Brooks also struggled, making 2 of 7 shots for six points. 

Oregon wasn't helped by an apparent ankle injury to Jordan Bell, who left the game for a couple of minutes before returning, but appeared to be bothered by the injury. 

Pritchard scored the team's first five points but three personal fouls limited him to six minutes of action in the first half. 

Meeks had 25 points and 14 rebounds. Justin Jackson scored 22 for North Carolina. 

What it means: Oregon advanced to its first Final Four since 1939 but came away empty. Still, this was the greatest season since then and is something the program can be proud of. Still, coming so close to defeating the Tar Heels here tonight will sting for some time. 

Key sequence: NC led 56-49 with 11:57 remaining in the game. At this point, Dorsey and Brooks are a combined 3 of 14. UO was 4 of 14 as a team in the half, including 1 of 8 on threes. 

Dorsey finally hit his first three-point shot while in transition off of a miss by Jackson to make it 56-52. But Pinson answered with a wide-open three for NC. The Tar Heels went on to methodically build a 71-62 lead with 5:54 remaining.

But the Ducks would not go away. Dorsey hit some free throws - he made 12 of 12 on the night - and Ennis made a three. Dorsey hit one of his three three-point field goals and then made another to make the score 77-74 with 46 seconds remaining.

Keith Smith got a made layup off of an assist from Ennis following a missed Pinson jumper and that set up the final seconds of action.

High-flying Ducks: Ennis had 18 points on 7 of 19 shooting. Jordan Bell gave the Ducks 13 points and 16 rebounds with four blocked shots. 

Fowl play: Dorsey scored 21 points but made just 3 of 11 shots. Brooks finished with 10 points on 2 of 11 shooting and had five turnovers before fouling out late in the second half.

His presence was missed down the stretch. 

Oregon committed a whopping 12 turnovers in the first half. 

Oregon shot 37.9 percent from the field. 

Up next:  Oregon will wait and see if Dorsey, Bell and/or Brooks head for the NBA along with seniors, Chris Boucher and Dylan Ennis. If two of the three return, the Ducks could be back here again next season. 

Gonzaga advances to NCAA finals after 77-74 win over South Carolina

Gonzaga advances to NCAA finals after 77-74 win over South Carolina

GLENDALE, Ariz. - The Gonzaga Bulldogs held on to a slim lead late to defeat South Carolina, 77-74, in the Final Four and earned their first ever trip to the NCAA championship game Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium. 

Gonzaga will play the winner of today's second game between No. 3 Oregon (33-5) and No. 1 North Carolina (31-7). 

Killian Tillie made two free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining to give No. 1 Gonzaga (37-1) a 77-73 lead that held up in the final moments. Up until that point, it appeared that the No. 6 Gamecocks (26-11) could steal this one from coach Mark Few and the Bulldogs.

Gonzaga led 65-51 with 10:55 remaining in the second half and appeared to have this game wrapped up when the Gamecocks went on a 14-0 run to tie the game at 65 apiece with 7:39 remaining. PJ Dozier's jumper tied the game. After a Gonzaga timeout, Rakym Felder made two free throws to give South Carolina the lead, 67-65. 

Gonzaga responded by regaining control of the game with a three-pointer from Zach Collins and then a dunk from Przemek Karnowski to take a 70-67 lead that grew to 74-69 with three minutes remaining.

South Carolina got to within 74-72 before Felder missed a jumper that would have tied the game with 1:36 remaining. Zach Collins got the rebound for Gonzaga and make both free throws then seconds later blocked a layup attempt by Gonzaga's Sindarius Thornwell with 1:21 remaining. 

Later, Dozier missed a three-point attempt and then a shorter jump shot following an offensive rebound with the Gamecocks down three. 

With 12 seconds remaining and the score, 75-72, Gonzaga, South Carolina had the ball and a chance. But the Bulldogs intentionally fouled Thornwell with three seconds remaining in the game to prevent the Gamecocks from getting off a three-point attempt.

Thrornwell made the first then missed the second, resulting Tillie getting the defensive rebound, getting fould and then making two free throws to ice the win. 

Nigel Williams-Goss led Gonzaga with 23 points and six assists. Collins had 14 points and 13 rebounds off of the bench. 

South Carolina shot just 37.9 percent compared to 48.3 for Gonzaga. Chris Silva led the Gamecocks with 13 points and 13 rebounds. 

Gonzaga led just 38-36 after South Carolina's Justin McKie made a three-pointer with 2:27 remaining in the half of a back-and-forth affair. Then the Bulldogs caught fire. Collins rebounded a Jordan Mathews miss and scored on a layup to jump start 7-0 run to close the half. Williams-Goss made a jumper and then Mathews hit a three-pointer with 48 seconds remaining to give Gonzaga a 45-36 lead at halftime.