San Jose, CA – Oregon closed the game on a 38-17 run to pull away from UC Irvine in a 73-54 win in NCAA Tournament action at the SAP Center in San Jose. The victory sends Oregon into a Sweet 16 match-up against No. 1-seeded Virginia in the South Regional in Louisville, Kentucky this Thursday night.
Payton Pritchard led Oregon with 18 points, seven assists and only one turnover. Louis King added 16 points on 4-of-7 shooting from deep. Ehab Amin turned the game around in the second half with his defense and timely shooting. The 6-3 graduate senior finished with 12 points, connecting on all of his four three-point attempts, and added six rebounds, three steals as well as several plays that resulted in extended offensive possessions. Kenny Wooten was huge inside, scoring 11 points, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking seven shots. Point guard Robert Cartwright led Irvine with 14 points.
Oregon dominated the first half as they continued their string of excellent defensive performances. They held the Anteaters to 33.3 percent shooting overall and only 1-of-7 on three-pointers. While Irvine had a 21-14 rebounding edge Oregon’s interior defense held them to only eight second chance points. Amin was all over the floor for the Ducks, making both his three-point attempts, getting two steals and saving several balls from going out of bounds. Oregon shot an efficient 6-of-12 from deep, with Paul White hitting two 3s as well. White and Pritchard led the Ducks at the half with eight points each. Oregon only committed two turnovers while forcing eight and generated a 12-3 advantage in points after turnovers. Wooten had five points and two blocked shots while affecting several inside attempts by Irvine’s bigs.
UC Irvine made a game of it by coming out of halftime and scoring the first 14 points of the second half to take a 37-35 lead. Cartwright started the run off with a three-pointer and Tommy Rutherford finished it with a hook shot inside. The Ducks were forced into four turnovers, including a shot clock violation and missed their first eleven shots of the half. Oregon was held scoreless for the first 7:32 of the half. Amin then came into the game and after a Wooten blocked shot, promptly drained a three-pointer to give Oregon a one-point lead. Then Louis King added another three to put Oregon up 41-37. After Irvine cut the lead to three points, Pritchard hit a key three-pointer then added a basket on a nice drive. Wooten followed with a dunk after getting an offensive rebound and, all of a sudden, Oregon was back in front by ten points (50-40) at the under 8-minute media time out.
A three-pointer from UC Irvine’s Max Hazzard cut Oregon’s lead to 55-47 but Oregon went on a 10-point run helped by three-pointers from Amin and King to extend the lead to 18 points and put the game on ice.
Oregon shot 13-of-25 on three-pointers (52 percent) while holding the Anteaters to 5-of-18 (27.8 percent) from deep. Oregon forced 15 Irvine turnovers and held a 25-10 advantage on points after turnovers. The Ducks only committed seven turnovers in the game. Oregon had eight blocked shots and seven steals compared to Irvine’s three blocked shots and two steals. The win was Oregon’s tenth straight and they have held both their NCAA Tournament opponents to 54 points.
During the Ducks ten-game winning streak they have allowed only 54 points per game and have improved their defensive efficiency to 15th in the nation according to kenpom.com. They are also ranked 6th in defense against three-pointers, 9th in shot blocking percentage and 19th in steal percentage. UC-Irvine came into the contest riding a 17-game winning streak, the longest in the nation. Irvine has depth as they play nine players for 16 or more minutes per game. Their 2-point defense is ranked #1 in the nation. The Anteaters have four players in their rotation 6-8 or taller and hold a +7 rebounding advantage per game this season. Their 70-64 victory over No. 4-seed Kansas State on Thursday night was their best win of the season. Their schedule was ranked 262nd best of all Division 1 teams.
In the opening game Virginia Tech took control in the second half and pulled away from Liberty (29-7) for a 67-58 win. Kerry Blackshear dominated inside and led the Hokies with 19 points and nine rebounds. Darius McGhee led Liberty with 15 points, connecting on 5-of-11 three-pointers.
Virginia Tech battled back from a 32-26 late first half deficit. They held Liberty to 27.3 percent (6-of-22) shooting in the second half and only 3-of-13 from long distance. The Hokies shot an efficient 48.3 percent in the half and hit 4-of-8 3s. They outscored Liberty inside 30-10 and had a 15-7 edge in points after turnovers. Virginia Tech (26-8) advances to the Sweet 16 and will face top-seeded Duke in an East Region match-up.