It was a hard fought battle for the Oregon Ducks, who lost to the Louisville Cardinals 77-69 in the Sweet 16 Friday night. Many analysts had Oregon as being extremely overmatched in this contest; while they were overmatched in some facets of the game, they managed to put up a valiant effort against arguably the best team in NCAA basketball tournament this season.
Oregon started in a man-defense to begin the game, much like they did against St. Louis. They put on the full-court press early and often, but to no avail. Russ Smith was able to exploit the press with his speed and split defenders to make some easy shots. When you operate in a full court press, you need to cut off passing lanes, which the Ducks had a problem doing against the speed of the Cardinals.
Louisville played most of the game in man-defense, and was able to put together a more effective press than Oregon. They didn’t get very many turnovers off of their press, but were able to dictate the flow of the game and throw Oregon’s offense off kilter. For most of the game the Ducks switched back and forth between man and zone defense, almost every five minutes on the dot.
It didn’t seem to matter what defense the Ducks used, they had absolutely no answer for Russ Smith and his career high 31 points.
After the first five minutes, Oregon abandoned the press as they were giving up easy shots. In comparison, Louisville operated the entire game in a full court press, forcing the Ducks in to uncomfortable positions. The Cardinals did an excellent job of neutralizing the offensive rebounding of the Oregon Ducks, and contained Kazemi on that side of the court. In the last few minutes of the first half, Louisville put together a 14-5 run to go into the locker room leading 45-31. The Cardinals shot 60% from the field in the first half.
Coming in to the second half, Oregon was able to get it together a little and got some good production from their freshman guards. Oregon actually outscored the Cardinals 38-32 in the second half, but it was not enough to overcome their deficit. The Ducks left at least seven points on the floor off of missed free throws, some of them one and one’s, which could have potentially tied the game up. Every time it seemed that Oregon was making a move to get the game close, Russ Smith had the answer with easy layups.
Besides Smith, the Cardinals had only two players in double digits, Kevin Ware with 11 points and Gorgui Dieng with 11 points and 9 rebounds. Louisville’s seven other players combined for just 25 points. For the Ducks, E.J. Singler led all teammates with 15 points. Freshman Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis both added 12 points a piece. Arsalan Kazemi ended his collegiate career in his usual style with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Carlos Emory added another 10 points.
Oregon out-rebounded the Cardinals, but only by one. A surprising stat for the game is that Oregon actually had less turnovers than Louisville did. The Ducks had 12 turnovers to the Cardinal’s 13 – a stat that most figured would be the downfall of Oregon in this game. Louisville did have a ton of points in the paint however, which did prove to be Oregon’s downfall.
Quick side note: The officiating of this game had nothing to do with the outcome, but I must say it was pretty horrible. Even the announcers mentioned multiple times how Oregon was getting hit with fouls that should not have been called, particularly in regards to Russ Smith. Smith is an excellent player, very athletic, but very out of control much of the time. It seems that when you have a player that puts up as many points as he does, goes up in traffic and throws up a garbage shot, officials like to bail that player out. It’s the whole, he would never have missed that shot, so surely someone fouled him because he has been hitting that shot all game. That is all I will say on that, this loss had nothing to do with the officiating but it could have been better.
With the season done for the Oregon Ducks, this was a very successful run. For a team selected to finish 7th in the Pac-12 to make it to the Sweet 16 and give the best team in the nation a run for it’s money…I say congratulations! I would like to thank the seniors that will not be back next year for giving us a season none of us expected. E.J. Singler, Carlos Emory, Tony Woods, and Arsalan Kazemi will all be gone next year and that saddens me. It seems as if Singler in particular has been playing for the Ducks the last 10 years, and I will particularly miss Kazemi.
With that said, the Ducks have a lot to look forward to. Star freshmen Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis have 3 years of eligibility left. Some great recruits are coming in and some fabulous junior college transfers adding to the mix. I have absolutely no doubt that Oregon will be back in the Big Dance once again next year. Let’s hope for a better seed next time around, my web footed friends.