Oregon lost one of its best players to an injury just before the NCAA Tournament, had to survive two nail-biters to reach the Midwest Regional finals, and then faced a top-seeded Kansas team that had romped to the brink of the Final Four.
With swagger and verve and downright prolific shooting, the plucky team that everybody wanted to count out rolled to a 74-60 victory over the Jayhawks on Saturday night, earning the Ducks their first trip to the national semifinals in nearly 80 years.
“You feel so good for so many people,” said Ducks coach Dana Altman, who is headed to his first Final Four after 13 trips to the NCAA Tournament. “It’s a team effort. You feel good for a lot of people.”
Tyler Dorsey hit six 3s and poured in 27 points, Dillon Brooks added 17 and Jordan Bell finished with 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks in a virtuoso performance for the Ducks (33-5), who seized the lead with 16 minutes left in the first half and never trailed the rest of the way.
Now, they’ll face the winner of Sunday’s game between North Carolina and Kentucky in the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona. It will be their first trip since 1939, when the Tall Firs won it all.
Player of the year candidate Frank Mason III had 21 points in his final game for the Jayhawks (31-5), but the offensive fireworks and steady poise that had carried them to a 13th straight Big 12 title fizzled just 40 minutes from campus on a night where very little went right.
Star freshman Josh Jackson was mired in early foul trouble. Sharpshooting guard Devonte Graham never got on track. And the swagger the Jayhawks showed in humiliating Purdue in the Sweet 16 simply evaporated for a team that rolled to the Elite Eight by an average margin of 30 points.
“I’m disappointed for them more than I am for me,” said Kansas coach Bill Self, who fell to 2-7 in Elite Eight game, including four defeats as a No. 1 seed. “But the one thing that happened today, and it’s hard to admit, the best team did win today.”
The Ducks knew everything was stacked against them, but the point was only driven home when their bus passed the Power and Light District in downtown Kansas City on the way to the arena. Thousands of fans in red and blue were rallying hours before the tipoff, turning it into a de facto road game.
But the torrid shooting of Brooks, Ennis and Dorsey quickly deflated the sold-out Sprint Center, and sent a warning shot to the Jayhawks that they were in for a fight.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Graham said. “They hit some big shots.”
Foul trouble sent Jackson to the bench for much of the first half, allowing the Ducks carve to out a comfortable lead. Then Dorsey finished the half with back-to-back 3s, including a deep bank shot at the buzzer, as the Ducks pranced to their locker room relishing in a 44-33 advantage.
“When you play hard throughout the whole game,” Brooks said, “you catch some breaks.”
The Ducks kept dancing in the second half, beating the Jayhawks at their own game: Getting into transition, passing up good shots for better ones and knocking down 3-pointers.
The Ducks’ lead swelled to 55-37 when Brooks drilled another shot from the perimeter, and frustration began to creep into the Kansas bench. It was only compounded every time Jackson or Graham tossed up a shot that clanked hollowly off the iron, the Jayhawks’ sense of desperation slowly growing.
Jackson didn’t score until midway through the second half, and said later he’d “never been in such a tough position.” Graham was 0 for 7 from the field, missing all six of his 3s.
The Jayhawks eventually began to whittle into their deficit, doing most of the work at the free-throw line. But the Ducks kept answering just enough to keep the crowd from giving Kansas anything extra.
When Svi Mykhailiuk scored to make it 64-55, Ennis answered with a driving basket. When Mykhailiuk buried a 3 from the corner to make it 66-60 with 2:49 left, Dorsey answered at the other end with another 3-pointer as the shot-clock expired to give Oregon some breathing room.
A few minutes later, the Ducks were cutting down the nets to end a satisfying trip to Kansas City.
“The seven years we’ve been at Oregon, we’ve had great guys to work with,” Altman said, “but I also feel good for all the other players, the ex-players, who have built Oregon basketball. Like we said, 1939 is a long drought, but we owe all the ex-players.”
The Jayhawks lost in the Elite Eight for the second straight year, while Self also lost for the seventh time as a No. 1 seed. That trails only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams, who have nine losses apiece, for most in NCAA Tournament history.
Oregon wound up shooting 51 percent from the field and hit 11 of 25 from beyond the arc, taking advantage of a porous defense that never matched the standard set by previous Kansas teams.
Kansas may look a whole lot different next season. Mason and big man Landen Lucas will graduate, and Jackson is likely to turn pro, though he said afterward he hasn’t thought about it. Graham and Mykhailiuk may also consider declaring for the NBA draft.