After a demoralizing loss to Oregon this season, Arizona coach Sean Miller suggested that if the Ducks had another level they’d be dangerous.
Turns out Oregon did have another level â€” and it took the team all the way to the Final Four.
The Ducks wrapped up their season at 33-6, setting a record for wins, on the way to just the second national semifinal appearance in school history. It was the team’s fifth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, and second straight season they’d reached the Elite Eight.
Oregon also won a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title and went undefeated at home for the second straight season.
But despite their accomplishments, Oregon players were still stung by their 77-76 loss to North Carolina on Saturday night with a trip to the national championship game on the line.
Jordan Bell sobbed at his locker, taking responsibility for two missed rebounds at the end.
Oregon pulled within 77-74 on Tyler Dorsey’s 3-pointer with 45 seconds left, then cut it to 1 on Keith Smith’s layup. The Ducks fouled Kennedy Meeks, who missed both free throws, but the Ducks were unable to box out Theo Pinson, who got the ball to Joel Berry II.
Like Meeks, Berry missed both of his free throws, this time with 4 seconds left. Like the previous go-round, Oregon again couldn’t keep the Tar Heels off the offensive glass.
Later that night Bell posted four words to Twitter: “I am so sorry. …”
Bell, Dorsey and top scorer Dillon Brooks of Mississauga, Ont., all said after the game that they had not made a decision about their futures. Brooks and Bell are juniors, while Dorsey is a sophomore.
“I’ll have great feelings about this team. It will just take a while for us to get through and get rid of some of this hurt. But we will. We will,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “And the guys, they’ll bounce back. And the guys that are coming back will work their tails off to be better next year. And the guys that decide to make the jump, then I’m going to wish them the best of luck and hope like heck that everything works out great for them.”
Oregon’s season got off to a rocky start. With Brooks still recovering from off-season foot surgery, the Ducks dropped two of their first five games.
Brooks returned and the team reeled off 17 straight wins before losing 74-65 at Colorado. Less than a week later, they struggled against Arizona State, eking out a 71-70 win.
Then came the statement-making win at home against then-No. 5 Arizona. Tyler Dorsey scored 23 points, including six 3-pointers, and Oregon snapped the Wildcats’ 15-game winning streak with an 85-58 trouncing.
“If they have another level above that, that’s a bad thing for every team in the country,” coach Miller said afterward.
The Ducks were riding high heading into the Pac-12 Tournament, but suffered a blow in the semifinals when they lost senior big man Chris Boucher of Montreal â€” the team’s top shot blocker â€” to a torn left ACL.
The versatile 6-foot-10 senior averaged 11.1 points per game, 6.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots to lead the Pac-12. He finished his career second on Oregon’s all-time blocked shots list with 189.
With the Ducks trying to adjust to Boucher’s absence, the Wildcats got revenge for that regular-season loss with an 83-80 victory to clinch the tournament title.
Undeterred, Oregon beat Iona, Rhode Island and No. 23 Michigan to reach the Elite Eight â€” where the team pulled off a thrilling 74-60 victory over the Jayhawks.
That sent the Ducks through to their first Final Four since 1939, when the Tall Firs won the first-ever NCAA Tournament with a final victory over Ohio State.
But the Tar Heels prevailed. In addition to the missed opportunities at the end, Oregon was hurt by 16 turnovers. And Brooks, Oregon’s usual go-to guy, struggled all night and fouled out with 1:32 left after scoring 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting. He finished with an average of 16.1 points per game to lead the team.
Dorsey finished with an average of 14.6 and 3.5 rebounds, while Bell had 10.9 points and 8.8 rebounds. Toronto’s Dylan Ennis, who played out his final year of eligibility, tried to look at the positive.
A graduate transfer from Villanova when he arrived in Eugene last year, Ennis was sidelined by a stress fracture in his foot that required surgery. It was thought his college career might be over, but Oregon successfully appealed to the NCAA to give him one more season.
He finished with an average of 10.9 points and 4.4 assists, starting in all 39 games for the Ducks.
“Nobody thought we’d be the team everybody thought we would be. But we stuck with it, kept pushing,” Ennis said. “And I’m just happy that we started playing good at the right time and got this far.”
AP Basketball Writer John Marshall contributed to this report.
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This version corrects the final score of Oregon’s win over Kansas to 74-60.
Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press