Ducks Dance Into Sweet Sixteen
INDIANAPOLIS — Playing for the first time in 10 days, the Oregon men's basketball team showed no signs of rust in its 2021 NCAA Tournament debut Monday, setting a program record for points scored in the Big Dance in a 95-80 victory over Iowa.
The No. 7 seed Ducks (21-6) reached the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in the last five NCAA Tournaments by knocking off the No. 2 seed Hawkeyes. Oregon will face the winner of Monday evening's matchup between USC and Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen on Sunday.
Chris Duarte had 23 points to lead four players in the double figures for the Ducks, who shot 55.9 percent and had a season-high 25 assists. Iowa all-American center Luka Garza finished with 36 points and nine rebounds, but other than Garza and Joe Weiskamp, the Hawkeyes were 2-of-13 from three-point range and couldn't keep up with Oregon.
"I'm very proud of the guys; man, they played hard," UO coach Dana Altman said. "Garza's such a good player, and he just ripped us up. But we just wanted to make sure the threes didn't kill us. I thought our guys did a tremendous job with focus and talking on the defensive end in the second half."
The Ducks became the second Pac-12 team to reach this year's Sweet Sixteen, with the conference's five NCAA Tournament teams yet to suffer a loss at that point in the tournament.
"It was very, very fun," Duarte said. "We had a lot of fun out there. Iowa's a good offensive team; we just had to keep our foot on the gas. And we did. We had a lot of fun."
How It Happened: Altman had expressed concern with how the long layoff and tournament nerves would affect the Ducks in the opening minutes Monday, but those weren't a problem — on the offensive end, at least. Will Richardson opened the game with an and-one conversion, and the Ducks raced out to a 12-9 lead thanks to a midrange jumper by LJ Figueroa, a dunk by Eugene Omoruyi, another and-one for Richardson and a fadeaway jumper over Garza by Omoruyi.
Defensively, though, the Ducks struggled to slow down Iowa in the first 20 minutes. Garza scored twice to put the Hawkeyes up 13-12, giving him 10 points in the game already. The teams continued to trade baskets throughout the half; two second-chance points by Omoruyi, a three-pointer from Eric Williams Jr., a Duarte dunk and a Richardson midrange jumper helped Oregon stay out in front 21-17, before Iowa got back within 21-20. Duarte scored 10 straight for the Ducks as they continued to hold the advantage, 33-30, only to see the Hawkeyes fight back into a 34-33 lead.
A three-point play by Garza put Iowa up 42-38, and Oregon was in a danger zone. Omoruyi picked up his second foul on the play, giving the Ducks three players with two fouls already, along with Duarte and Figueroa. But Altman stuck with his starters.
"I knew we had to stay with Iowa," Altman said. "They're such a potent offensive team. I just felt if we got behind, we'd be in trouble. I just didn't want to chase them."
The decision paid off. Figueroa hit a three-pointer at the pother end, and Omoruyi got the Ducks back in front with two more second-chance points. After Iowa tied it 46-46, the Ducks closed out the first half on a 10-0 run that included two more three-pointers by Figueroa.
Oregon's 56 points at halftime were the most in program history for a half of NCAA Tournament play, and matched the team's season high for points in a half.
After halftime, the Ducks kept up their offensive efficiency. And their defensive energy surged as well; Iowa was 7-of-14 from three-point range in the first half, but just 4-of-11 in the second half. Oregon scored on its first five possessions after halftime, getting points from Duarte, Richardson, Figueroa and Williams to open up a 67-51 lead.
A cold stretch of 3:44 followed, but Iowa only got as close as 10 before the Ducks got going again, on three-pointers by Omoruyi and Figueroa and an Omoruyi dunk. Richardson hit a three-pointer for a 78-59 lead, Duarte got it to 20 at 82-62 with a thunderous dunk, and Oregon ultimately led by as much as 21 at 89-68 after yet another Figueroa three-pointer.
The Ducks didn't get any points off the bench until Chandler Lawson scored with 9:41 left in the game. But Franck Kepnang would add two more buckets by the reserves later in the half, and Kepnang also blocked two shots with his typical display of energy off the bench.
Who Stood Out: Duarte was 9-of-12 shooting for his 23 points, and tied his career high with seven assists. Richardson also had seven assists, along with 19 points and six rebounds. Omoruyi filled it up as well with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists, and Figueroa had season highs of 21 points with five three-pointers, plus three steals.
Altman also lauded the work Omoruyi did to help limit Garza, to the extent the Ducks were able to at all.
"He battled his tail off in there," Altman said. "Eugene's been our physicality all year. He battled."
Notable: Oregon's previous high for points in an NCAA Tournament game was 93 against Iona in 2017. … This will be the eighth Sweet Sixteen appearance in UO history. … Duarte and Richardson tied Luke Ridnour (2002) and Payton Pritchard (2019) for fifth on Oregon's NCAA Tournament single-game assists list with seven. ... Figueroa's five three-pointers tied for fourth in UO single-game NCAA Tournament history with Orlando Williams (1995), Aaron Brooks (2007), Damyean Dotson (2013) and Tyler Dorsey (2017). ... Only two Ducks in NCAA Tournament history have had more steals in a game than Figueroa's three, Fred Jones (four, 2002) and Dominic Artis (four, 2013).
Up Next: The Ducks moved on to a Sweet Sixteen appearance Sunday.