Winning close games is quickly becoming a habit for the Oregon Ducks. But as long as they have more points than the opponent when the clock hits zero, the Ducks don’t mind.

Oregon won its second straight nail-biter of a game to advance to the Elite 8 for the second straight season with a 69-68 win over 7-seed Michigan Thursday night in Kansas City. Only 1-seed Kansas stands in the Ducks’ way in order to go on to the Final 4. The Jayhawks defeated 4-seed Purdue 93-66 to set up what should be a great game Saturday.

I’m really happy for the guys,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “It was a great game. We knew Michigan was a very talented team, and, you know, those threes got them back in there. I thought we had a cushion there of five points, two possessions, the game changed really quick.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach John Beilein and Michigan. I thought it was a great game. Both teams played really hard and at times it wasn’t really smooth, but they took away some of the things that we wanted to do and I thought there were a few times where we took some of the things that they wanted to do away.”

But facing Kansas was almost a pipe dream with Michigan putting Oregon to the test in every way possible.

The Wolverines were down by four-to-six points for much of the second half. The Ducks would hit a shot and look to take control of the game, but Michigan would always come down the floor and hit a big shot to stay within shouting distance.

They did more than stay within shouting distance with five minutes to go when Derrick Walton Jr. and DJ Wilson knocked down back-to-back threes to turn a 60-55 deficit into a 61-60 lead with 4:23 to go.

Oregon made plenty of big shots of their own, however.

Tyler Dorsey, who making the NCAA tourney his own personal playground, nailed a three to give the Ducks a 63-61 lead and the two team exchanged baskets the rest of the way. Walton, Jr. gave the Wolverines a 68-65 lead with two minutes to go.

That jumper was Michigan’s last basket. Rhode Island can relate as it scored its last points with two minutes to go in the second round game with Oregon.

The Ducks were down three with two minutes to go and the season was on the brink. Jordan Bell brought the Ducks to within one, 68-67, off an offensive rebound after Dylan Ennis missed the front end of a one-and-one. Oregon managed a much-needed defensive stop and that led to Dorsey driving the lane and giving the Ducks a 69-68 lead with 1:09 left.

Oregon got one more defense stop when Wilson missed a three. Dillon Brooks secured the board and Oregon was able to run clock. Brooks was able to drive the lane, but missed the lay-in. Bell grabbed the rebound, forcing Michigan to foul.

Usually this is a good thing for Oregon as they fouled Ennis. The sixth-year senior came into the game hitting 74 percent of his foul shots, but he once again missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Wilson got the rebound and Michigan had the ball down one with a chance to win the game. Fortunately for Oregon, it had three fouls to give. The plan was to use those fouls up to make it difficult for the Wolverines to come up with any kind of set play.

It worked once when Bell fouled with 10 seconds to go. But Oregon didn’t foul again. The Ducks played tight defense and forced Walton, Jr. fall-away three from the right wing over Ennis. The shot was short, Brooks rebounded the ball and the game was over.

According to Dorsey, sometimes you have to stand there and just hope for the best.

“I was just watching the ball in the air hoping it didn’t go in and it didn’t,” he said. “I was happy and I was excited for us to get back to this Elite Eight. Just ball-watching, to be honest.”

Dorsey did just the opposite of ball watching for 39 minutes and 58 seconds of this game. The sophomore guard continues is incredible run in post-season play with 20 points. He was also 5-of-7 from long range.

Bell added 16 points and 13 rebounds with Brooks scoring 12 points, five assists and four rebounds. Ennis poured in 10 points and brought down five boards.

The Ducks shot 45 percent from the field and 8-of-17 from three-point range. Michigan kept itself in the game with their three-point shooting prowess. The three-point shot is a major part of the Wolverines’ offense as 30 percent of their points come from behind the arc and this game wasn’t any different.

Michigan hit 11 threes, but Oregon’s defense made it extremely difficult to get a clean look. The Wolverines took 31 shots from long range.

A stat Oregon will need to be in their favor is free-throw shooting. The Ducks were just 9-of-16 from the charity stripe and against a team like Kansas, that won’t cut it.

Right now, Oregon can just enjoy the feeling of accomplishing something very few teams are able to do; advance to the Elite 8 for the second straight year.

“It’s just an unbelievable feeling. I owe these guys so much, for putting us in this position,” Altman said. “As a coach you always dream of playing in the Final Four and winning a national title. I feel really fortunate to have really good players who have put us in that position, great administration, great school and they have backed us all the way.”

~ Don Smalley
www.DuckNews.com