SAN JOSE, Calif. - Walt McGrory beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer that took away Oregon’s shot at history.
Otherwise, it was a meaningless basket because the Ducks had already run away from Wisconsin for a 72-54 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday afternoon at SAP Center. Oregon came up two points shy of the largest margin of victory ever by a No. 12 seed over a No. 5, but that record may have come with an asterisk anyway because the Ducks haven’t looked the part of a longshot for the past month.
Oregon (24-12) followed up its Pac-12 Tournament title by outscoring the 21st-ranked Badgers 47-29 in the second half for a ninth straight win that sent it into a second-round matchup against UC Irvine (31-5) on Sunday. The Ducks’ last three wins have come over NCAA Tournament teams by a total of 42 points.
“I think this shows that last week wasn’t a fluke,” Oregon point guard Payton Pritchard said. “We are here to play. We are here to win it.”
Last week, Oregon set the conference tournament record for margin of victory in a 33-point win over WSU. Oregon’s 18-point win goes down as the third-largest margin for a No. 12 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“We came in as a 12 seed and most people thought we couldn’t do anything against Wisconsin,” UO’s Francis Okoro said. “We came in and proved them wrong and now we have to do the same thing on Sunday.”
Actually, Oregon was one of the trendy upset picks in bracket pools as a Power 5 conference tournament champion riding a hot streak.
“All the average and bad teams are on spring break, so you know you’re going to play a really good opponent,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “You’re either playing a team that is hot coming in, like Oregon, or you’re going to play a team that had a really good regular season.”
The Ducks admittedly had a disappointing regular season, but are now among the final 32 teams in the tournament for the sixth time in seven years as Dana Altman still has not lost an opening game in the NCAA Tournament at Oregon. The Ducks weren’t the only underdog to leave the building a winner so they will face 13th-seeded UC Irvine, which defeated Kansas State 70-64 for its 17th straight victory.
“The 13 seed beat a four too, this is how the NCAA Tournament works,” Oregon guard Ehab Amin said. “That is what March Madness is all about. I think we are the underdogs again tomorrow.”
Oddsmakers will likely disagree with that, but Oregon’s last four wins have all come against higher seeds in a tournament.
“We are going to keep on rolling, it doesn’t stop and we aren’t done yet,” UO freshman Louis King said. “We are still the underdogs and we are coming for everything right now.”
Altman couldn’t find much to nitpick after the Ducks made 17-of-24 shots in the second half while limiting Wisconsin to 30.6 percent shooting during that time.
“The guys were tremendous,” he said. “We played real hard and in the second half our defense was off the charts. Good team effort.”
Pritchard led the Ducks with 19 points and eight assists, King added 17 points and Paul White scored all 14 of his points in the second half. However, the talk of the team surrounded Kenny Wooten’s nine points, six rebounds and four blocked shots, including one that he swatted into the stands with a salute to the crowd as former Duck Jordan Bell cheered him on from the front row.
“I don’t think they knew who Kenny was,” Okoro said with a laugh. “If they knew, they wouldn’t do that.”
Wooten smiled and shook his head when told of Okoro’s assertion.
“I feel like every team knows about my shot blocking ability, but they try to go in and draw fouls and things like that,” he said. “They did a good job of that in the first half, but once we build our lead, they had nothing to lose but to just throw it up there.”
Wisconsin’s 6-foot-10 All-American Ethan Happ was held below his averages with 12 points, eight rebounds and no assists. Happ was 5-for-10 from the field with two of his misses blocked by Wooten.
“Kenny blocking a few of his shots I think got in his head a little bit, it does to anybody,” Altman said.
Oregon led by 18-11 midway through the first half before Wisconsin scored eight straight. The game was tied 25-25 at halftime before Khalil Iverson opened the second half with a 3-pointer for Wisconsin and Nate Reuvers gave the Badgers their last lead at 31-28 on a 3-pointer.
White followed with a 3-pointer and Wooten added consecutive dunks to put the Ducks ahead 35-31. Happ got a steal and layup that got the Badgers within 52-47 with 6:24 left to play before Oregon scored on seven of eight possessions to pull ahead 68-49 on a 3-pointer by King.
Oregon’s last five wins all came when a loss would have ended its opportunity to keep playing in the NCAA Tournament.
“We don’t look at the seeds and all that,” Wooten said. “The team we are going to play Sunday is a real good team with 30 wins that has not lost since January. I haven’t have 30 wins in a season during my college career so that is definitely a good team.”