/Heres what led to the strangest matchup of March Madness

Heres what led to the strangest matchup of March Madness

CLOSECollin Welp

SportsPulse: Saturday was all chalk for the most part with Ja Morant and Murray State bowing out of the tournament. Trysta Krick recaps the action and looks ahead to Sunday’s slate.
USA TODAY

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The NCAA tournament will include something never seen before in the second round.

Anteaters.

The 13th-seeded UC Irvine Anteaters will play the 12th-seeded Oregon Ducks Sunday at the SAP Center in a matchup that begs a question: How in the heck did this happen?

Making only its second appearance in the NCAA tournament, UC Irvine on Friday beat fourth-seeded Kansas State for its first-ever NCAA tournament victory. Max Hazzard helped punctuate it when he squatted and crossed his arms after hitting a key 3-pointer with 1:30 to play.

“The stage doesn’t get much bigger than this,” Hazzard said, and there is some evidence to help explain how UC Irvine got here.

DNA.

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Hazzard, a redshirt junior guard, is the grandson of the Walt Hazzard, the late UCLA star who was named Most Outstanding Player of the 1964 Final Four when the Bruins won the national championship.

“And I know my grandfather is looking down on me and the rest of the squad, smiling, and that means a lot for me,” Hazzard said after UC Irvine’s victory over Kansas State.

More notable basketball bloodlines:

Reserve freshman forward J.C. Butler is the son of Caron Butler, a retired NBA standout; reserve senior guard Spencer Rivers is the son of Doc Rivers, head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers; and Collin Welp, a freshman forward and UC Irvine’s third-leading scorer, is the son of Chris Welp, the 1986 Pac-10 Player of the Year who spent three seasons in the NBA.

Also, the Anteaters’ 17-game winning streak no longer can be dismissed as a product of playing in the Big West Conference. UC Irvine coach Russell Turner suggested it was time for the Anteaters to stick out their chests considering the Anteaters have long existed in the shadows of UCLA, USC, Cal, Stanford and even San Diego State.

“Maybe like little brothers,” Turner said. “Well, little brother has been in the weight room, getting better, getting ready for a chance like this.”

How Oregon got this chance, to advance to the Sweet 16 with one more victory, is more perplexing.

On Feb. 21, after a 66-49 loss to USC that dropped Oregon’s record to 15-11, Ducks coach Dana Altman voiced his displeasure to his team and changed the starting lineup.

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Following a 90-83 loss to UCLA two nights later, Oregon commenced it’s current nine-game winning streak.

“I’m really surprised,” Altman said. “I’m happy for the guys, and I am very proud of them. But I am surprised.”

Understandably.

Nine games into the season, Oregon lost its star player, Bol Bol, to a season-ending injury. (The 7-2 center has his own bloodlines as the son of former NBA center Manute Bol.)

There were other setbacks, too.

Starting forward Kenny Wooten missed four games with a broken jaw. Louis King, Oregon’s five-star freshman, played only two minutes in the first eight games while recovering from knee surgery. Paul White, another starting forward, struggled with an ankle injury.

“And nothing clicked,” Altman said. “And, boy, I blew a couple of games during the year, you know, where I just — because I wasn’t connected with the guys. I didn’t know what to do, and I blew the games, and I told them that.

“So, you know, to see them come like this and … have fun and play their tails off, and that’s what they’re doing right now.”

Funny. That’s what the Anteaters are doing, too. Maybe that’s how the heck this matchup happened.

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