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With Duke defeated, Ducks get ready for another battle

TRIBUNE PHOTO: KIRBY LEE - Coach Dana Altman cheers on his Oregon Ducks in their Sweet 16 triumph over Duke on Thursday night at Anaheim, Calif.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 he’s 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, didn’t seem real:

Oregon 82, Duke 68.

“I have a lot of scar tissue so it’s hard for me to understand that we’re better than they are,” Kilkenny said. “But we’re clearly better. And it’s great that our coaches and players get that. Some people have trouble getting that, and I happen to fall in that category. It’s just a lot of years built up.

“But clearly we have a better basketball team than Duke. Wow.”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JEFF SMITH - Oregon players quietly check messages and chat with others after beating Duke.The top-seeded Ducks’ Sweet 16 win before 17,601 at Honda Center advanced them to Saturday’s 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’ men’s basketball coach.

“He really needed a platform that gave him an opportunity to compete at the highest level,” Kilkenny said of Altman. “He’d 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 didn’t 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 can’t get too high, can’t get too low.”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: KIRBY LEE - Casey Benson (right) and Elgin Cook enjoy the victory.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.

“We’ll celebrate at the end of the season,” Cook said. “We know it’s not over. We’re just going to put this game behind us and get ready for a good Oklahoma team. As long as we’ve got a game ahead of us, it’s 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 didn’t want to save anything for the next game, because if we lost this game, there wouldn’t 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 Oregon’s 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 don’t have time to appreciate it, but I definitely appreciated it out there.”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: KIRBY LEE - Oregon's Chris Boucher counts to three after a long-range basket against Duke.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 Thursday’s 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 he’s been a great friend and mentor for the last 30 years,” Altman said. “We’ve avoided playing each other because I’ve 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.”

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.TRIBUNE PHOTO: KIRBY LEE - Duke and Oregon at the opening tip.