West Coast bias
Pacific Standard Time: Oregon, Gonzaga earn the first two spots in the Final Four
kansas city, mo. — Surely Oregon’s first Final Four team never could have envisioned the heap of inconveniences that threatened the second. That ancient team won its 1939 regional final on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay; Oregon won its second on Saturday evening amid a great wall of Kansan sound only 40 miles from the Kansas campus. Those bygone Ducks had to win one game to reach the Final Four near Chicago, while 78 years on, these psychedelic Ducks had to win three games, then submit a virtuoso achievement in the Midwest Region final.
As they head to a far louder Final Four in Greater Phoenix, the Ducks (33-5) will know their
74-60 win came despite the highest degree of difficulty in the whole first 62 games of the NCAA tournament. They will know they assembled one of the better cases of defusing in the record books of Madness, treating a home team that had blasted and soared its way here as some sort of equal, and treating that team’s rapt fans to a familiar case of queasiness. A team that scored 100, 90 and 98 points suddenly got 60 as Oregon, the No. 3 seed, quelled the pace without being plodding.
The Ducks will know, further, that they gifted their 58-year-old coach, Dana Altman, in his seventh Oregon season and 28th at the helm of a Division I program, with his first Final Four. As they did so, they joined Gonzaga to constitute the first Pacific Time Zone Final Four entries since 2008. Still further, they will know they did all of this even after the season-ending injury, only 15 days prior, to senior mainstay Chris Boucher.
This last feat, though, proved their steepest. As they played a Kansas program that won its 13th straight Big 12 title and spent chunks of the season at No. 1, they played their own fourth Elite Eight this century, and their second straight, and they did so as that rare Elite Eight team that entered the arena to supermajority boos. Still, they spent the first 25 minutes expertly crafting a 55-37 lead. They kept hold of their oxygen when Kansas (31-5) came at them, especially at a moment 6:39 from the end, when Oregon’s March maestro, Tyler Dorsey, rammed in a long three-point shot as the shot-clock reached: 02. They held on even when they didn’t always hold onto their offensive plan.
From the get-go, the visitors at a neutral site behaved as if they either didn’t notice, didn’t care or delighted in their relative unpopularity. They showed their intent within 10 seconds. Kansas’ Josh Jackson roared toward the basket from the right, and Oregon’s Jordan Bell swatted away his attempt, on his way to a near-tripledouble of 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks. From there on, Kansas serially had problems fretting about Bell when it drove inside.
From there through a first-half feast of acrobatic plays, the Ducks ensured that Kansas fans could hang out with their extensive collection of March goblins from this particular decade. They ran lovely fast breaks. They made hard-to-make shots. They had sound ideas generally.
They hit seven three-point shots, and all of the four that came from Dorsey told stories. On his first two, swishes early on, he stopped in his tracks to admire his work as it traveled, then make little gestures, in the general direction of the Kansas bench after they went through. On the final two, non-swishes in the final minute, he looked as adamant as if dunking.
He pulled up on the left with 43 seconds left and a half-court play not yet even begun and launched one that rattled out, but rattled upward and rattled back down. He pulled up way out front with two seconds left and merely banked one in. The two shots chased the score from 38-33 to 44-33, and the Ducks ran off merrily with their outnumbered pocket of fans in a bouncing bliss of resistance.
Some Kansas fans did take on a familiar look. Their program had gone out pre-Final Four this decade in plenty a situation that seemed ripe for mirth: as a high seed against Northern Iowa, against VCU in a regional final, against Stanford, against Wichita State, against Villanova in another regional final, all of it wrapped around one national runner-up finish in 2012.
Their 2016-17 team, so beautifully unchallenged in its first three Midwest Region games — wins by 38, 20, 32 — had suffered a complication way back in a 17-second swatch of the third minute. That’s when Jackson, the freshman from Detroit, picked up two fouls on the same possession and went off to sit and watch. While he wound up playing only 10 first-half minutes, national player of the year candidate Frank Mason III kept saving Kansas with his own show of knowhow.
With his floaters, his onehanders, his will and his two three-point shots that wreaked great walls of sound, he scored 17 points as the team, its bench, its coach and its state all seemed to ride his sturdy back. That Oregon made him less effective in the second half was just one of its unpopular feats.
Dillon Brooks left, and Tyler Dorsey embrace Oregon’s first trip to the Final Four since 1939. The pair combined for 44 points.
Jordan Bell was a force inside for Oregon (33-5), contributing 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocked shots to disrupt Kansas.