PORTLAND — Aaron Johnston was still nursing a fat lip during his news conference Thursday afternoon ahead of the Portland Regional semifinals at the Moda Center.
South Dakota State’s coach — who was accidentally hit in the mouth by a water bottle in the visiting locker room Monday at the Carrier Dome after the Jackrabbits upset Syracuse — joked that his players needed to work on their postgame celebrations.
The Ducks will try to make sure that doesn’t happen after the Sweet 16.
Second-seeded Oregon will try to end No. 6 South Dakota State’s historic NCAA Tournament run and advance to a regional final for the third consecutive season when the two teams meet again Friday at Moda Center (8:30 p.m., ESPN2).
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Top-seeded Mississippi State plays No. 5 Arizona State at 6 p.m. in the first game of the session.
A crowd of over 11,000 is expected for the nightcap featuring the seventh-ranked Ducks.
“Hopefully it’s going to be like a home game,” senior guard Maite Cazorla said after learning about how many tickets had been sold Thursday. “Wow, that’s just amazing. I’m just excited.”
The Jackrabbits (28-6) arrived back in Brookings, S.D., at about 4 a.m. Tuesday after beating the third-seeded Orange 75-64 in Syracuse, N.Y.
After attending classes and doing some laundry, the blurry-eyed Summit League champions traveled to the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Ducks (31-4) took Monday off after advancing with a 91-68 romp over No. 10 Indiana on Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena.
The Pac-12 champions took a two-hour bus ride to Portland after Wednesday’s practice.
“As far as them playing close to home, they've earned the right to do that. That's a great thing,” Johnston said. “As far as the crowd, we're excited about that. It will be a big crowd. We play in front of a lot of big crowds, nothing that large, but quite a few big crowds. …
“We want to be in an event where it is followed. You don't want to get to this point and play in a half-filled arena. So we're excited about that. I think that will be a good thing for both teams.”
Oregon already defeated the Jackrabbits in front of their passionate fan base Dec. 12. Johnston and counterpart Kelly Graves said both teams have improved a lot since the Ducks’ 87-79 nonconference road win.
Several of South Dakota State’s young players have developed into reliable complementary pieces to senior standouts Macy Miller (18.1 ppg) and Madison Guebert (14.1 ppg).
"I think back home we were kind of more one-on-one, didn't have a lot of help defense. We didn't do well inside the post, help side," Miller said of allowing Satou Sabally to score 27 points and Sabrina Ionescu (26 points, nine assists, eight rebounds) to nearly finish with a triple-double. "This time we've just got to rely on our system that we've worked with all year, good help-side defense, closing gaps.
"Especially on Sabrina. She also helps get the whole team going, so I'd say it's a whole team effort."
Oregon, which allowed the Jackrabbits to shoot 45.2 percent from the field with nine made 3-pointers, ratcheted up the defensive intensity after escaping the Frost Arena with the win.
“That was a defensively challenged weekend we had back in the Midwest,” said Graves, whose team lost 88-82 at Michigan State three days before getting in a shootout in Brookings. “We didn’t really slow South Dakota State up much either. Michigan State scored, I don’t know, maybe 150 on us that game. We were a little bit better against South Dakota State.
“It was a good game actually, both teams played well offensively. I think that was a turning point because then we came home and played Mississippi State and I thought we did a great job defensively in that game. I thought we continued to improve from there.”
The Ducks are 4-0 this season against the remaining Portland Regional field, having beaten the Bulldogs 82-74 on Dec. 18 in Eugene and swept the regular-season series with Arizona State en route to the Pac-12 title.
Oregon lost to Mississippi State two seasons ago at a tournament in Hawaii and against last season in Starkville, Miss.
“Obviously playing Oregon, I've played them now three straight years, have a great deal of respect for Kelly and his program and those players, know how good they are,” said Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer, whose team has lost in the last two NCAA championship games. “To see Arizona State compete with them, play them down to the last possession really in both games, is quite impressive.”
The Ducks lost in the Albany Regional final to UConn two years ago as a plucky No. 10 seed and lost in the Spokane Regional to eventual national champion Notre Dame last year.
If the third time is going to be the charm in the Elite Eight, Oregon must make sure South Dakota State doesn’t get to celebrate in the postgame locker room for the third time in this NCAA Tournament.
“I hope we don’t play feeling any kind of pressure,” Graves said. “We’ve been to that Elite Eight twice, and I know there’s expectations externally to go further. We obviously want to go further and feel we can. But we’re only worried about Friday night’s game, and that will take care of itself. If we’re fortunate enough to move on, we’ll take that next game.
“I certainly haven’t put any pressure on them. They know what we’re capable of doing, so we’ve just now got to go out and do it.”