SAN JOSE, Calif. — Oregon was stumbling toward the end of a disappointing season until a strong turnaround led the Ducks to the Pac-12 tournament title and an NCAA Tournament bid.
Oregon is not looking to slow down any time soon.
Payton Pritchard scored 19 points, Kenny Wooten protected the rim with four blocks, and 12th-seeded Oregon extended its surprising March run by beating No. 5-seed Wisconsin 72-54 Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“It showed everybody today, it wasn’t a fluke,” Pritchard said. “We’re here to play. We’re here to win it.”
The Ducks (24-12) won four games in four nights last week just to make the NCAAs, then followed it with an impressive victory over a higher-seeded opponent. Oregon advanced to play No. 13 seed UC Irvine (31-5) on Sunday in the second round of the South Region.
Louis King added 17 points, Paul White scored all 14 of his points in the second half, and Wooten had nine points, six rebounds and the tone-setting blocks to give the Ducks their ninth straight win.
“To see them come like this and have so much fun, that’s why we coach, just to see guys get together and have fun and play their tails off,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “That’s what they’re doing right now.”
Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson each scored 12 points to lead the Badgers (23-11).
The game was tied early in the second half when the Ducks used their athleticism to take over. Wooten scored on back-to-back dunks and White followed with a 3-pointer to make it 42-35.
White then blocked a shot by Happ on one end and converted on an impressive alley-oop pass from Pritchard on the other end to make it 46-37 with 12:31 to play.
The Badgers tried to cut into that deficit, but King made a 3-pointer and two free throws to build the lead to 10 points with less than five minutes to play. Wooten then put the exclamation point on the victory with two blocks on one trip before Pritchard’s layup made it 59-47, and the rout was on.
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard lamented a poor seven-minute stretch for the Badgers but was proud of his squad for making the tournament a year after the Badgers missed the field.
“It doesn’t tarnish,” Gard said. “It stings for a while, but it doesn’t tarnish what this group accomplished to get to this point.”