Two Angles on Last Night’s Oregon/Arizona Classic

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) and Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 12th, 2016

On Friday night in Las Vegas, Oregon outlasted Arizona in stunning fashion, withstanding a furious comeback to win in overtime. Below are two perspectives on the outcome, coming from each team’s perspective.

On Arizona

What Arizona has leaned on all season long is its distinct advantage in the frontcourt. It’s a traditional looking lineup the Wildcats roll out there, which is neither right nor wrong; it’s what they have. Against Oregon, that might not cut it. Because to contextualize what the Ducks have all over its roster, they have innumerable small forwards. Arizona has none (or a few who are limited). When considering matchups, this is a tough one, arguably, for both teams. But Ryan Anderson was neutralized, Kaleb Tarczewski isn’t an offensive threat, and the rest of the team could be bullied by the mismatches. It’s what allowed Oregon to effectively win the game in the final minutes of the first half.

Mark Tollefsen Missed Just One Shot On Friday Night, But He's Probably Still Thinking About That One (Daily Wildcat)

Mark Tollefsen Missed Just One Shot On Friday Night, But He’s Probably Still Thinking About That One (Daily Wildcat)

So naturally: what a ball game! We can exhaust the narrative of MARCH MADNESS but there’s a reason the damn line stands. Mark Tollefesen had two free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining to win the contest. To win the game. He didn’t win the game. And consider the box score. The Wildcats had 27 offensive rebounds and 27 second chance points. The Ducks had 24 points off of 15 (not a terrible number) Arizona turnovers. The Wildcats were a free throw make by an 83 percent foul shooter from winning a game in which – at that point – they had abysmal performances from  Anderson and Gabe York.

Sean Miller spoke highly of his opponent (Oregon, as a reminder) in the postgame press conference. He paid the Ducks what he called the ultimate compliment when he noted how “together” and “as one” they played. But his team, as well, gathered and regrouped to fulfill the madness we crave. York and Anderson were a combined 4-of-20 from the field at one point. Yet Arizona –- not an individual, but Arizona — battled back. Players stepped up in big moments – Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s three; Tollefsen’s three and a steal –- who maybe hadn’t been in those moments before. Miller noted that the collective can be far greater than any individual (classic leadership line). On this night it was proven just how true that is. So if you need some sunshine in the dark of an Arizona loss, that’s a sound direction headed into the maddest of the madness. After all, Tarczewski noted, “I think we’ll be playing our best basketball in the Tournament.”

On Oregon

The final four-minute stretch in the first half, after the opening stanza’s media timeout, showed why Oregon has the ability to be among the Final Four teams standing this season. There was the smothering defense, forcing five turnovers in that span and turning four of those immediately into eight points in transition. There was the interchangeability that is a hallmark of their seven-man rotation, with any number of guys capable of grabbing a defensive board on one end and immediately turning up court and leading a break — like Dwayne Benjamin to lead to a Dillon Brooks lay-in. And there was the general explosiveness, epitomized either by Jordan Bell’s violent airborn rejection, Tyler Dorsey’s transition three or any of their racing conversions at the rim. While the Ducks played plenty of great stretches of basketball in the thriller’s 45 minutes, that four-minute stretch embodied everything that can be great about this team.

Behind A Versatile And Talented Rotation, Oregon Advanced To The Pac-12 Title Game (John Locher, AP Photo)

Behind A Versatile And Talented Rotation, Oregon Advanced To The Pac-12 Title Game (John Locher, AP Photo)

There was another stretch, however, that could also be very telling (and unsettling) about this Oregon team. With 26 seconds left in regulation, the Ducks led by seven points. Three possession game; insurmountable, right? A three cut it to four points. Chris Boucher missed a couple free throws. Another three cut it to one, but with just one second left, things are still pretty simple. But as we already alluded to, the game wound up going to overtime, so clearly the Ducks had problems finishing under pressure. Boucher forced an inbounds pass while Oregon still had a timeout in its back pocket. Mark Tollefsen stole the ball. And, well, you know the rest. Head coach Dana Altman explained it away as a mistake and panic. More to the point, the Ducks were even in position to struggle closing out a 15-point halftime lead because of their 6-of-16 performance from the free throw line in the second half, quite a difference from the team’s 72 percent mark on the season.

So which of the two important Oregon stretches more accurately represents this team? Oh, no. It’s not so easy that we can give you an answer now. That’s what the rest of March is for. There’s no doubt, based on that four-minute stretch of the first half, that Oregon has the elite talent necessary to win the national title. And if everything goes as wrong as it did in those final 26 seconds of the game, a promising season could go out the window amid a flurry of bad mistakes. But what will more likely determine the Ducks’ destiny is what occurred in the other 35 minutes of regulation and the five-minute overtime. Altman’s group is a team that really only goes seven deep, but those seven fit together perfectly. There’s talent and explosiveness and size and athleticism and skill and patience and teamwork and any number of other positive buzzwords for a basketball team. This team almost let a game get away from it in an embarrassing and heartbreaking fashion last night. But in the end, Oregon beat a well-coached, hard-nosed, experienced squad in what amounted to a road environment. With bigger games on the near horizon, those warts at the end of regulation go down as a learning experience rather than a fatal flaw.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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