LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A rare smile broke out in the locker room when Will Richardson reflected on the last month of Oregon’s men's basketball season.
“It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had,” the UO freshman guard said. “From where we were at to now, nobody in the country thought we would be in the Sweet 16. Everyone is upset in here, but we are proud of where we got.”
Oregon’s 10-game winning streak and season both ended with a 53-49 loss to top-seeded Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night at KFC YUM! Center.
The Ducks built an early six-point lead on the Cavaliers and took their last lead in the final six minutes before Virginia advanced to face Purdue in the South Regional final on Saturday night.
“It definitely hurts more when it is a close game because it feels like you could have put more into it,” Oregon sophomore Kenny Wooten said. “If it was a blowout, that probably hurts in the middle because you knew it was over.”
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For much of the year, Oregon’s season looked like it would end two weeks ago at the Pac-12 Tournament or in the NIT, but instead the Ducks were one of 13 teams left in the title hunt by the time the clock ran out against Virginia.
“It was special,” UO freshman Francis Okoro said. “We really picked it up when nobody thought we’d be here. We did a great job to get here and I think we deserved to win, but we came up short.”
Oregon was the only double-digit seed to reach the regional semifinals.
“With how close of a connection we had, it is really tough to leave them so that is why this is so hard and so emotional,” senior guard Ehab Amin said. “You want success not just for yourself, but for the people around you because of how much you put in. To have it end the way it ended and see how close we were is just real sad.”
Oregon had avoided elimination from the national-title race by winning six straight games at the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments.
“We weren’t supposed to be here anyway, but we kept grinding it out,” Wooten said. “I feel like this team taught me a lot. I will probably take this with me forever.”