The men’s basketball team faced a somewhat familiar foe in their first round NIT tournament match, having played the UC Irvine Anteaters back in November, in their second match of the season.
The Ducks were thoroughly trounced in that game, and only lead for 7 seconds 2⁄3 into the first half. Oregon lost 56-69, in an ominous harbinger of the struggles that this team, and its fans, would have to endure this season.
Going into last night’s first-round matchup against these same Anteaters, the Ducks found themselves playing without their top three scorers of the season - Will Richardson, N’Faly Dante, and Jermaine Couisnard. It was not difficult, as a fan, to feel the anxiety ahead of tipoff. This team has played with a Jekyll-and-Hyde persona, so which team was going to step up? Whom would step up and score the points needed to replace what was being lost?
It turned out that the Ducks performed better, offensively and defensively, than one might have dared to hope.
For perhaps the first time this season, these Ducks played with spirit and energy for the full 40 minutes. Oregon set the tone from the opening bell. When the Ducks missed their first shot, Rivaldo Soares got the rebound and then put Oregon on board with a second-chance shot from downtown. From that point on, UC Irvine would not take a lead or even tie for the rest of the game. “Waldo”, as he is known by coaches and teammates, capitalized his mark on what would be a career night in leading the Ducks to second round play.
Oregon wasn’t exactly on fire to start the game, but they were making baskets, and the Anteaters were not. Even when the Ducks inadvertently gave UC Irvine open looks on threes, it was UC Irvine and not Oregon that could not find the hoop. At the 8:59 mark in the first, the Ducks held a four-point lead and were shooting 31% - but the Anteaters were only shooting 22%.
Then the Ducks busted the game open with a 10-0 run, courtesy of Quincy Guerrier and Rivaldo Soares hitting successive threes.
The Ducks rode the crest of that run to halftime, and were up 35-22. They closed the half with walk-on Gabe Reichle’s three-pointer that brought the crowd to their feet.
Oregon’s shooting may have been “only” 34%, but the Ducks were finding the long ball, going 6-14 for 43%. And the Anteaters? UC Irvine could only muster 20% shooting, underscored by going 1-12 from beyond the arc. While Oregon was riding Soares’ hot hand, the other Ducks that had significant minutes were making significant contributions. Well, except for Nate Bittle, who went 0-4, and Tyrone Williams, who went 0-1. It certainly seemed like Oregon could use help from parts that were not performing.
But oh, what a difference 20 minutes can make.
Bittle and Williams both had outstanding second halves, but Soares was still making noise. Waldo would establish career-best numbers five minutes into the second half.
Tyrone Williams was a furious ball of energy in the middle of the half, and UC Irvine could not keep pace with Williams’ offensive and defensive flow. Williams played hard all half, but scored most of his points mid-period.
With seven minutes left to play, Oregon kept the pedal to the floor and did not let up. Nate Bittle’s slam dunk to begin to put the game out of reach was something that you had to see in person to really feel the speed and impact of this play:
Bittle’s three-pointers in the last five minutes of play put the exclamation point on a game that UC Irvine was not going to make competitive, bringing us to our 84-58 final.
Oregon’s rematch with UC Irvine gave us numbers that were nearly diametrically opposed to one another. In November, the Anteaters were 12-28 from beyond the arc, with the Ducks 4-21. Yesterday, Oregon was 12-28 and UC Irvine was 4-23. In November, the Ducks shot 32%, while yesterday the Anteaters shot 30%.
DJ Davis teed off on Oregon last fall, ending with 24 points, including 6-14 from long range. The Ducks ensured that did not happen again, and Davis finished last night with nine points on 3-13 shooting. Dawson Baker was the scoring leader for UCI with 16 points.
Rivaldo Soares capped his career night with a double-double, ending with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Tyrone Williams also picked up a double-double, scoring 12 with 11 rebounds. Nate Bittle brought 17 points and three blocks on the night.
Coach Dana Altman’s comments after the game (courtesy of Duck Territory’s Matt Prehm):
Also, Rivaldo Soares and Nate Bittle talked after the win (again, courtesy of Duck Territory’s Matt Prehm):
Oregon can breathe a bit after a surprisingly lopsided win. Other Power 5 schools did not advance, with #4 Washington State, #4 Florida, #1 Rutgers, and #1 Clemson all losing at home. UCF was the team that defeated Florida, and they next face the Ducks in MKA on Sunday, 3/19, at 4:30 pm PT. That game will be shown on ESPNU.