Ducks are looking scary after win over Oklahoma State
SAN JOSE, Calif. – They didn’t feel disrespected or under-seeded. In fact, Oregon didn’t think twice about being given a 12 seed in the NCAA tournament.
They just went out and played.
Behind a monster performance in the paint from Arsalan Kazemi and a backcourt that resembled the one that powered the team to into the top 10 earlier this season, Oregon moved past No. 5 Oklahoma State 68-55 Thursday afternoon at HP Pavilion in their 2nd round NCAA tournament matchup.
[Related video: Oregon-OSU highlights @NCAA.com]
“We didn’t feel like we needed to make a statement. We always knew we have a really good team,” senior E.J. Singler said. “It was all about us getting the win and feeling good about ourselves. I think we did that today.”
Perhaps the selection committee simply wanted to give the millions filling out brackets a sure-fire 5-12 upset pick for the 12th time in the past 13 years. No matter the rationale, the Ducks dominated from the start on Thursday.
After a slow, turnover-filled start to the game, the Ducks took the lead with 13:26 in the 1st half and never relinquished it. They dominated the stat sheet as well – including a plus-12 rebound advantage over Oklahoma State.
“That was a total team win,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “We beat them in every category and I’m really happy for the guys because they played hard.”
While the offense looked just as fluid as it did in winning the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, it was the Ducks' defense that really got the team going early. Dominic Artis grabbed a steal off National Freshman of the Year Marcus Smart and was part of a rotation of bodies large and small that limited the talented starter to just 5-of-13 shooting for only 14 points.
“There are  great teams out there and every team has the same chance to win,” Kazemi said. “We went out there and played hard. Harder than Oklahoma State definitely.”
In contrast to his slow starts in the Pac-12 Tournament, Kazemi played one of his most complete games of the season. The Rice transfer earned his 10th double-double of the season and set a school record for rebounds in an NCAA game with 17.
“We feel like we can beat anybody, especially the way we’ve been playing coming off the [Pac-12] tournament win,” Singler said. “If all of us continue to play with a lot of passion, a lot of confidence in ourselves, I feel good about our chances.”
In addition to Kazemi, the backcourt play against the Cowboys gave Ducks fans a glimmer of what they saw when the team controlled its destiny throughout most of the regular season. Though he played just 17 minutes, Artis chipped in 13 points and four steals as he continues to round back into form following a several-week absence with a foot injury.
“[Artis] was playing so well when he went down. Now that he’s back, I’m back into my comfort zone and playing hard,” said Johnathan Loyd, who came off the bench for five points and three assists. “With him back and hitting on all cylinders, we’ve got a two-headed monster at the point guard position.”
That’s what makes Oregon primed for a run over the next few weeks – regardless of its seed. The Ducks backed into the Pac-12 Tournament with back-to-back losses on the road but flipped the switch with a new player stepping up each night in Las Vegas.
From scoring to rebounding to little things like zone defense, there’s few things Oregon can’t do and even fewer teams they can’t beat at the moment.
“We’re playing really, really good right now. We’re sharing the ball, making plays for each other. That’s when we were our best back in January,” Singler said. “We just have to keep that going. If we keep playing with that confidence, we’re a scary team.”
The Ducks next face Saint Louis on Saturday with a spot in the Sweet 16 at stake.
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