SportsPulse: While there are no real Cinderellas left in the tournament USA TODAY’s Trysta Krick explains why that’s okay and looks ahead to the Sweet 16.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Oregon Ducks looked like dead ducks.
But fans of the basketball team should’ve known better, even before the 12th-seeded Ducks pulled away from the 13th-seeded UC Irvine Anteaters for a 73-54 victory and their third trip to the Sweet 16 in the past four years.
They’ll play the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers on Thursday at the South Regional in Louisville, Ky., where no one should read these Ducks their last rites prematurely, especially after what happened Sunday at the SAP Center.
At halftime, Oregon led 35-23. But UC Irvine opened the second half with a 14-0 run and went ahead, 37-35, as Oregon missed 11 shots in a row.
“I was trying not to lose my composure, but I could feel us tightening up there a little bit,’’ said Oregon coach Dana Altman.
Oregon’s Ehab Amin ended the scoreless drought with a 3-pointer with 12:31 left in the half. The basket propelled Oregon on a 15-3 run and, thanks in part to its suffocating defense, the Ducks never looked back in the second-round match.
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Kenny Wooten, Oregon’s 6-foot-9 forward, was particularly impressive with seven blocked shots, including on a 3-point attempt by UC Irvine’s Max Hazzard. Wooten also had three dunks, two off of lob passes.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,’’ Hazzard said. “He just came out of nowhere. I’m like, ‘Oh, my God. How’d he even get that.’ Just a freak of nature.’’
Like Wooten, who now has 19 blocks in the past four games, Oregon keeps getting better and better. Although the scoreless stretch at the start of the second half Sunday was reminiscent of their season.
On Feb. 21, Oregon suffered an embarrassing 66-49 loss to USC that angered Altman and prompted him to change the team’s starting lineup.
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“We were at a low point against USC and just, you know, we were dead in the water,’’ Oregon starting point guard Payton Pritchard said. “Either the season was going to be over at that point or we’re going to change it and see what we could make happen.’’
Oregon fell to UCLA 90-83 two nights later, but it turns out the Ducks were not dead. Since then they have won 10 games in a row.
“I mean, we’re very pleased,’’ Pritchard said. “We’re not satisfied yet. We don’t want to just go to Sweet 16 and lay an egg. We’ll go in and fight.’’
Sunday was the latest evidence of that.