Louisville, KY — The No.1-seeded Virginia Cavaliers topped the No. 12-seeded Oregon Ducks 53-49, in the Sweet 16 Thursday night in the Louisville Regional. The Cavaliers now advance to the Elite Eight on Saturday night against the Purdue Boilermakers. This game was a stark contrast to the shootout before between Purdue and Tennessee. Both Virginia and Oregon shot under 38% from the field and never really got into an offensive rhythm.
“It was a hard-fought game. I think we won that with our defense, and then timely plays offensively were there,” shared a happy head coach Tony Bennett after the win. “They’re tough defensively to figure out. We don’t play against that a lot. At times we struggled but made enough offensive plays but certainly rallied defensively in the right plays. It was a knuckle buster or whatever you want to call it. We had to fight. Again, these guys found enough, and we know we can play more efficient and better in some ways, but the defense carried us.”
The Cinderella-hopeful Ducks were the highest remaining seed in the tournament and looked as though they could pull off the upset late in the game. With 5:44 left on the clock, Oregon held a three point lead, 45-42.
However, Virginia’s vaunted defense stepped up when they needed it to most and locked Oregon down over the final few minutes. It wasn’t easy for the Cavaliers, but they showed they can still win games even when their shots aren’t falling.
“Offensively, there were struggles, but you have to just — you’ve got to hang in there defensively. That’s how we’re built,” said Bennett on his teams’ struggles against the Ducks’ defense.
Even though Virginia had four players in double figures, none scored more than 13. The combined efforts from the Cavaliers was enough to survive and advance to the next round with a 53-49 victory.
On the opposing end, Oregon was led by freshman Louis King with 16 points. Junior Payton Pritchard, the leading scorer for the Ducks, scored 11 points on 3-for-12 shooting from the field.
Despite its defense keeping the Cavaliers primarily in check, Oregon struggled to hit shots down the stretch. King hit a triple with 5:44 remaining in the game, but then his team’s offense became very stagnant as it didn’t score again until there were 15 seconds remaining in the game. That was thanks to Pritchard hitting two free-throws to cut the deficit to three, 50-47.
“I mean, you’re going to give the other team credit,” Francis Okoro said after the loss. “They were hitting tough shots. And we were hitting tough shots too, but we just came up — towards the end, we couldn’t hit the shot. It was really bad for us.
“Coach said something about we were not playing the right way towards the end because we were just doing individual stuff,” Okoro continued.”We didn’t really finish like a team. At the same time, I love my teammates. It felt like they had to do that, and we just came up short today.”
“I feel like we got the shots that we wanted sometimes,”echoed head coach Kenny Wooten. “They just probably weren’t falling as much. And sometimes we weren’t getting the shots we wanted. But mainly it’s all about our execution, and we weren’t executing as much as we wanted. And that’s ultimately how it went down.”
The Cavaliers responded with a couple free-throws of their own and defensive stops to collect the win.
Bennett now has his chance to earn his first trip to the Final Four and prove the naysayers wrong that Virginia is built to compete in March.
The Cavaliers take on the Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday, March 30 at 8:49 pm ET on TBS.