Oregon, now 27-8, was the aggressor from the opening tip and took the game physically to the higher-ranked Cowboys from the Big-12 Conference. On Thursday, the Ducks were simply the quicker and tougher team as they dominated the backboards and the scoreboard to advance to play St. Louis in the NCAA Midwest Regional tomorrow.
Behind the first half long-range shooting of Damyean Dotson and the rebounding of Arsalan Kazemi, Oregon streaked to a 11-point first half Duck lead in front of 16,836 in attendance at HP Pavilion and never looked back in dominating the game against Oklahoma State, Oregon’s first win in the NCAA tournament since 2007.
Dotson scored eight of the first 11 Oregon points; and like the Pac-12 tournament, was instrumental in the Ducks starting strong. The freshman shooter hit three triples in the early going to help spread the Cowboy defense and allowed the Ducks to be aggressive driving to the basket.
Kazemi was at his best in the first half of yesterday’s game. His energy and passion lifted the Ducks, as he was everywhere he needed to be at the right time, and he recorded a double-double by halftime. His rebound basket of Dotson’s errant shot gave the Ducks their largest lead of the first half at the halftime buzzer, 37-26.
Coach Dana Altman said, “Arsalan’s all about the team. He really wants our team to be successful. He’s been great all year. He gives up individual stats for the team. He’s been a real pleasure and a real opportunity for me to coach because he’s so much fun.”
Unlike many vocally unhappy Duck fans who bemoaned the announcement of Oregon’s 12-seed, Altman took the opposite approach. He said it didn’t matter who or where the Ducks played. When he found out that Oregon earned a 12-seed, he seemed to barely notice. He found a positive, and that was to be excited to play in San Jose, reasonably close to home, so more Duck fans could travel.
The players took the coach’s cue and prepared to focus on how they could take advantage of Oklahoma State and utilize the momentum that came from winning the Pac-12 Tournament Championship in Las Vegas.
Oregon assistant coach Tony Stubblefield said, “Coach Altman did a great job of concentrating on the game and keeping the team focused.”
The Oregon coaches put together a defensive plan that would try to limit the touches and opportunities for much-heralded freshman Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart and teammate Markel Brown. The object would be to be very physical with the two key Cowboys, and not let them get into any rhythm offensively. Behind the efforts of E.J. Singler, Kazemi, Dotson, and Tony Woods, the plan worked well.
Smart was the big media story going into the game. Altman said, “He’s a phenomenal player, and if I was an NBA guy, I’d want him, just from watching film.”
But the National Freshman of the Year and Big-12 Player of the Year was nearly a non-factor for much of the contest with the Ducks. He did eventually score 14 points and grab nine rebounds, but six of his points came well after the game was decided. Altman said, “I told D.A. (Dominic Artis) and Johnny, there’s no doubt he’s more physical, but I really believed they were quicker.”
Defending and rebounding go together, and yesterday, the Ducks were the dominant team in both categories. Oregon out-rebounded the Cowboys 44-32. 14 of those were offensive boards that led to numerous second chance points for the Ducks, many by Kazemi and Emory.
Kazemi who finished with 17 rebounds, an Oregon NCAA tournament record, said, “Sometimes my teammates, they tell me I grab their rebounds. But when I jump, I don’t look who gets the ball. I apologize if I get their rebound, but I just jump to get it.”
Perhaps the Duck who was most happy about Oregon’s first round destination was Artis, who lives in Oakland. When he was out nine games with a stress fracture in his foot, he missed both games in the Bay Area earlier this season. Yesterday, he played his best game since his return to action. He scored 13 points, had four steals, and dished out two assists against OSU.
Artis said, “I made some shots that I usually hit, so that got me going. And then focusing on defense really helped my team.”
Altman said, “We got D.A. going a little bit. He got us some distance, and then Johnny came in and cleaned it up. Our point guard situation has straightened up a little bit.”
Singler, Emory, and Loyd all played important roles in the decisive Duck victory. Emory came off the bench to finish with 12 points and nine rebounds, while Singler scored eight points and grabbed seven boards. Loyd, splitting time with Artis, helped put the game away for the Ducks as he single-handedly broke the Cowboy late-game press time and time again with his quickness.
The Ducks won despite being out-shot from the field 40%-39%, and turning the ball over more often than OSU, 18-14. Oregon’s defense and rebounding advantage never let the Cowboys within 10 points in the second half as the Ducks controlled the tempo of the game and were never seriously challenged.
Altman said, “I like where we’re headed but we’ve got a real challenge in St. Louis. They’re really good, and they’re well-coached. We will need to really play well Saturday.”
St. Louis had no problem disposing of New Mexico State prior to Oregon’s win against Oklahoma State. St. Louis coach Jim Crews said, when asked about Oregon. “They’re very impressive, very talented, very deep, a fun team to watch. Unfortunately, we have to play them.”
Typical, respectful quotes from two opposing coaches about to face off in the next round of the Big Dance.
Something’s got to give. That’s what makes this time of year so addictive for those that are smitten with the madness of March.
Follow Luke Roth on Twitter: @luke_lukeroth