Everything about this game had a March feel to it. It had two competing fan bases making noise, two solid squads who made it to the dance last year and back and forth action that saw neither team able to pull away from the other by more than 9 points.
Most importantly, this game featured an electric finish as the Ducks came from behind and toppled the Illinois Fighting Illini 71-64, Saturday night. It was particularly special for one Duck, Mike Moser who was making his return to his home town of Portland.
"It felt incredible. Ten times better that we won the game," said Moser, "It was really special having my family, my friends and my mom there. It felt amazing."
The Illini had a pair of players lead all scorers with 16 in Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams, but it was Oregon's balanced attack; having 5 players in double figures which came proved to be the more effective approach. Joseph Young and Mike Moser each had 14 and Johnathan Loyd hit the dagger jump shot as part of his 11 to pace the Ducks.
Through much of the first half, the same issues which have seemed to plague Oregon to this point in the season were there. They struggled to rebound the ball against a good rebounding team and had trouble communicating on defense.
It wasn't until late in the half when Oregon would finally start to limit the Fighting Illini to one shot per possession. Early in the half it really hurt them. The Ducks allowed 6 offensive boards which led to 6 second chance points.
The Ducks were also uncharacteristically careless with the ball as they amassed 8 turnovers in the first half. Despite this, Oregon looked poised to break away late in the half, holding a 4 point lead and the ball, but a quick spurt from the Illini reversed the momentum and the teams went into the half tied at 32.
The Ducks continued to struggle with the Illinois defense through the second half and seemed dead in the water as the Illini raced out to a 9 point lead. Oregon though would not be denied as they chipped away at the lead until they tied the score at 54. From that point, it was all about the Ducks.
"The pendulum really swung there the last ten minutes and a lot of that was just our defensive energy," said Coach Dana Altman.
Oregon finished on a 30-14 run and featured timely shots by Joseph Young and Johnathan Loyd propelling the Ducks to the victory.
While Oregon got destroyed on the boards in the first half, they were quick to turn it around and came away with a 30-27 rebound advantage overall for the game. The Ducks finished the game with 16 turnovers which kept the Illini in the driver's seat through much of the game as they dictated the tempo.
Oregon will return two players who have been missing from their rotation in Ben Carter and Dominick Artis. It will be interesting to see how they contribute and what their spots in the rotation will be once their services are available to coach Altman. The first look will be against UC Irvine this upcoming week back at Matthew Knight Arena.