With Duke defeated, Ducks get ready for another battle
ANAHEIM, Calif. In a hallway outside the Oregon locker room Thursday night, former UO athletic director Pat Kilkenny stood in awe.
He looked at the relatively subdued post-game reactions of the players, with most quietly staring at their cell phones in between interviews with the herd of reporters.
He glanced at Oregon coach Dana Altman, who calmly paced in a nearby corner with his typically tense expression and looked like he was already planning for the next game.
It was about then that Kilkenny realized hes not wired the same way as the players and their coach. While they may view what happened Thursday night as the next step in an ongoing journey, Kilkenny wanted to hit the pause button and soak in a final score that, to him, didnt seem real:
Oregon 82, Duke 68.
I have a lot of scar tissue so its hard for me to understand that were better than they are, Kilkenny said. But were clearly better. And its great that our coaches and players get that. Some people have trouble getting that, and I happen to fall in that category. Its just a lot of years built up.
But clearly we have a better basketball team than Duke. Wow.
The top-seeded Ducks Sweet 16 win before 17,601 at Honda Center advanced them to Saturdays West Regional final against No. 2 seed Oklahoma. The game is scheduled to tip at 3:09 p.m.
For Kilkenny, the Elite Eight showdown is further validation he made the right choice in spring 2010, when he led a search committee to replace Ernie Kent as the Ducks mens basketball coach.
He really needed a platform that gave him an opportunity to compete at the highest level, Kilkenny said of Altman. Hed done everything he thought he could do at Creighton. He loved it there in Omaha. But for him to not have this opportunity would have been a crying shame. He deserves this.
On the other end of the court Thursday was legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, and the presence of the man known as Coach K was hard to avoid for Oregon.
Duke is a household name, and Coach K, Altman said. I have a great deal of respect. So, yeah, our guys knew the significance of playing Duke. It was a different feel to it.
But Coach A was more than up for the challenge of matching wits on the Sweet 16 stage, and both coaches didnt disappoint with their theatrics. They quickly took off their jackets early and delivered several emphatic foot stomps and hand gestures throughout the game.
Of course, with Altman, that intensity is nothing new and would have been the same if the opponent was, say, Arkansas-Pine Bluff before a small crowd in November.
He always keeps it consistent, Oregon senior forward Elgin Cook said. You cant get too high, cant get too low.
That mentality was evident in the winning postgame locker room. The players scrolled through giddy messages on Twitter and Facebook from their family and friends, but they were collectively saving their celebration for a bigger accomplishment.
Well celebrate at the end of the season, Cook said. We know its not over. Were just going to put this game behind us and get ready for a good Oklahoma team. As long as weve got a game ahead of us, its all business.
No matter what happens when the Ducks and Sooners meet with a berth to the Final Four at stake, there is no question that Thursday marked a pivotal moment in Oregon basketball history.
Oregon, which won the first NCAA Tournament back in 1939, dominated the 2015 national champions in most every facet of the game en route to its program-record 31st win of the season.
We lost to a hell of a team, Krzyzewski said.
Krzyzewski kept waiting for the Ducks (31-6) to fade a little, but it never happened. After taking a 36-31 lead into halftime, Oregon opened the second half on an 18-10 run to extend its lead to 54-41.
We were playing with a lot of energy, Ducks sophomore forward Jordan Bell said. We knew it was win or go home, so we wanted to play our hearts out. We didnt want to save anything for the next game, because if we lost this game, there wouldnt be a next game.
So we just wanted to go out there and fly around.
The second half featured an array of big-time dunks from Bell, sophomore forward Dillon Brooks and junior forward Chris Boucher that kept the momentum firmly on Oregons side.
It was really exciting out there all game, Boucher said. When you dunk the ball or get a block, the crowd makes so much noise. Usually in a game you dont have time to appreciate it, but I definitely appreciated it out there.
Boucher was one of five UO players to score in double figures, led by Brooks 22 points. Oregon also received 16 points from Cook, 13 points from Bell and 11 points each from Boucher and Casey Benson.
Cook also had a team-high nine rebounds to become the Ducks career leader in NCAA Tournament rebounds with 48.
All eight Ducks who played grabbed at least two rebounds to help Oregon outrebound Duke 42-32. That was one of main pregame keys, along with limiting the Blue Devils 3-pointers. Duke (25-11) finished 7 of 22 from beyond the arc.
That was big for us, Oregon senior forward Dwayne Benjamin said.
The task list gets bigger against a talented Oklahoma team that blew out Texas A&M 77-63 in Thursdays earlier game in Anaheim.
For Altman, that means a matchup against his good friend Lon Kruger, the Sooners coach. Kruger, who coached against Oregon in the Sweet 16 in 2007 when he was at UNLV, hired Altman on his Kansas State staff in 1986.
Thirty years ago, he gave me my first job in Division I, and hes been a great friend and mentor for the last 30 years, Altman said. Weve avoided playing each other because Ive got so much respect for him.
But the good thing is one of us is going to go to the Final Four, and it will be a battle.