Maybe Kenny Wooten should tweak his left shoulder more often.
All right, maybe not. But after the Oregon center got his shoulder bumped in a collision late in the first half, he looked like a different player in the second half in Oregon’s 72-54 win over Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The 12-seeded Ducks relied on their defense, which has been a theme for the past three weeks that has propelled Oregon on its current nine-game winning streak.
Now Oregon will play on Sunday with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line where UC-Irvine awaits. The 13-seed Anteaters upset 4-seed Kansas State earlier in the day 70-64.
Wooten’s defense on the inside and his four blocked shots forced the Badgers to uncharacteristically jack up 30 threes and they made just six of them.
Three-pointers were not a problem for Oregon in the second half, however. The Ducks nailed five of their six three-point attempts in the second half as they buried the Badgers 47-29 after the halftime break after the two teams went into the locker room tied up 25-25.
Payton Pritchard led Oregon with 19 points, Louis King added 18 and Paul White poured in 14. The Ducks shot 55 percent for the game and 71 percent in the second half alone on 17-of-24 from the field. With Oregon’s defense, it’ll be tough to beat when it’s shooting that well.
As with the first half, both teams had a feeling out period to begin the second half, but then the Ducks went on an 11-3 run to grab their biggest lead of 46-37 with 12:38 left.
From that point on, Wisconsin couldn’t cut the Duck lead to under five for the rest of the contest. Oregon went on another big run, this time 18-2 to put the game away.
A huge key to the game was holding the Badgers all-conference performer, Ethan Happ, in check. The 6-10 forward came into the game averaging 17.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. But against Oregon, Happ was held to just 12 points, many of those coming when the game was already decided.
Khalil Iverson also scored 12 and Nate Reuvers added nine, but it wasn’t nearly enough to overcome the Ducks’ suffocating defense.
Oregon might have a little nervous to begin the game as the Badgers quickly took a 7-2 lead. But once they settled down, the Ducks managed to erase that early deficit to go on a 16-4 run and take an 18-11 lead.
Defense, as expected, controlled the first half for both teams and fittingly, the score was all knotted up at 25-25 at the halftime break. Oregon held Wisconsin’s leading scorer, Happ, to just four points. His struggles was indicative of Wisconsin’s shooting woes in the opening 20 minutes of action. The Badgers shot just 37.5 percent from the floor and just 2-of-11 from long range.
As for the Ducks’ half on the offensive end, not a lot was working if their name wasn’t Pritchard or King. The Ducks’ point guard scored 12 in the half and King poured in seven. They combined for 19 of the 25 first half points for Oregon.
~ Don Smalley