SAN JOSE, Calif. — Oregon’s Sweet 16 celebration began early.
A couple of minutes remained on the clock, but the Duck men had secured a 73-54 win over UC Irvine when smiles started to appear as Kenny Wooten swatted yet another shot at the rim. Wooten ran to the other end and dunked an alley-oop from Ehab Amin before getting back for his seventh and final block of the game.
Louis King followed with a 3-pointer before Dana Altman was able to get his starters off the floor.
“Blocks, dunks, we are just celebrating throughout the game,” Wooten said. “We tend to do that and coach gets mad at us for it, but we are just excited to be able to keep playing. Our energy tends to get to us at that time.”
Altman didn’t have much else to critique after his 12th-seeded Ducks (25-12) defeated the Anteaters in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night at SAP Center to reach a South Regional semifinal against top-seeded Virginia (31-3) Thursday night in Louisville, Ky.
“I’m really happy for the guys, they have done a great job,” Altman said. “They should feel good about themselves, but I sure hope they want to play a little longer.”
The Ducks have won 10 straight games to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament as the only double-digit seed remaining in the field.
“I was sitting on the bench thinking to myself, ‘We are going to the Sweet 16’,” said UO senior Paul White, who played only 21 minutes while picking up four fouls. “There are only 16 of us left.”
Oregon took a 35-23 halftime lead before the Anteaters scored the first 14 points of the second half to go ahead 37-35 with 14:23 to play.
“We gave them 12 easy points there,” Altman said. “We screwed up the first play and they got an open 3-pointer and then they threw inside and got a couple rebound baskets. It is not difficult to score the 12 points we gave them.”
Amin made a 3-pointer to put Oregon back into the lead before King scored five straight points to put the Ducks ahead 43-37. Evan Leonard followed with a 3-pointer for Irvine before Payton Pritchard scored five points in a row and Wooten dunked to push the lead to 50-40.
“I was saying that’s their best shot so we can withstand it and push forward,” White said. “We got multiple stops on defense and were able to capitalize on a lot of them.”
UC Irvine closed within 55-47 before Amin banked in a 3-pointer with 5:02 left to play. Pritchard followed with two free throws and Wooten dunked before King hit a 3-pointer to set off Oregon’s celebration.
“We have a lot of runs,” Wooten said. “As soon as we get a run started and play up-tempo, we get big plays and bring the energy.”
UC Irvine shot 39.2 percent from the field, including 5-for-18 on 3-pointers. Oregon forced 15 turnovers, more than double the seven for the Ducks.
“They picked it up on defense and made us uncomfortable,” UC Irvine’s Jonathan Galloway said. “We started to turn the ball over here and there and a couple guys started hitting shots for them. They made it hard for us overall.”
Pritchard led the Ducks with 18 points and seven assists while King added 16 points. Wooten had 11 points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots.
“Obviously it is sweet to be back in the Sweet 16, you shouldn’t ever take it for granted,” said Pritchard, the only Duck remaining from Oregon’s Final Four team two years ago. “But I know we are not done yet.”