SAN JOSE, Calif. — A common theme went though Oregon’s locker room when the Ducks arrived for halftime in a 25-25 tie with Wisconsin.
“All the guys were saying ‘Just like Washington’,” UO coach Dana Altman recalled after the Ducks went on to defeat the Badgers 72-54 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday afternoon at SAP Center.
Oregon led Pac-12 champion Washington 28-26 at halftime of the title game in the conference tournament last Saturday before blowing by the Huskies for a 68-48 win to clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“We told ourselves that we have been in this position before with Washington where we didn’t play our best basketball in the first half,” UO senior Paul White said.
White meant that individually as well after missing his only two shots during 19 scoreless minutes in the first half. He scored Oregon’s first points of the second half and added a pair of 3-pointers and an inside basket for 10 points in the first seven minutes of the half.
“I was just feeding off the defensive energy we were having,” White said. “We found our flow and it paid off for me and the rest of us. People were finding me and I was making some of the right plays.”
Oregon shot 70.8 percent from the field in the second half while making 5-of-6 3-pointers to outscore the Badgers 47-29. The Ducks had nine assists on 17 field goals while nearly doubling their scoring output from the first half.
“I don’t think there were any adjustments, we just started hitting some shots,” UO point guard Payton Pritchard said. “If the score is low going into halftime, we can live with that. We had shown in the last two games that if we are close at half we can push the lead.”
Wisconsin’s last lead was 31-28 following a 3-pointer by Nate Reuvers with 17:54 left to play. Oregon followed with seven straight points and when Wisconsin got within 35-33, the Ducks scored on five straight possessions to pull ahead 46-37.
Wisconsin’s last run closed within 52-47 with 6:24 to play before the Ducks scored 18 of the next 20 points.
“There was a seven- or eight-minute stretch when we got discombobulated defensively,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “We had three or four possessions where we didn’t get good looks or turned it over and they were able to capitalize and then they got separation. It’s hard to play from behind against a good team.”
Kenny Wooten blocked three shots in the second half and Oregon had three steals as part of seven turnovers by Wisconsin during the final 20 minutes.
“Coach wasn’t satisfied with our first-half performance so we tried to go out in the second half and defend real hard,” Wooten said.
Wisconsin was 11-for-36 from the field in the second half and missed 15-of-19 3-point shots.
“We made a couple adjustments on how we guarded the posts and ball screens,” Oregon senior Ehab Amin said. “We didn’t give them anything easy except a couple of offensive rebounds.”
That allowed the Ducks (24-12) to avoid any drama late in the game and advance to the second round against 13th-seeded UC Irvine (31-5) on Sunday.
“We have been able to sense when a team is starting to give us its best shot and if we can outlast that run, we can overcome just about anything,” White said.