EUGENE, Ore. — In a game that began under a shadow of controversy, the Oregon men's basketball team grabbed the spotlight Saturday, upsetting No. 14 Arizona in overtime, 98-93, before a sellout crowd of 12,364 fans in Matthew Knight Arena.
The Wildcats were without head coach Sean Miller, one day after an ESPN report that alleged improper recruiting tactics. The player in question, freshman Deandre Ayton, still mustered a dominant performance Saturday night. But the Ducks were the tougher, more energetic team and never trailed in overtime, five days after the Oregon women's team beat No. 10 UCLA in overtime at Matt Arena.
"We knew they'd come out with fire, and wanting to prove something," UO sophomore Keith Smith said. "We just had to protect home court, and make sure they didn't come in here and steal the show.
How It Happened: The Ducks (19-10, 9-7) used their press defense to hound the Wildcats into 17 turnovers, while committing just four themselves to fight back from a 13-point deficit early in the second half. Oregon matched its largest lead to that point in the game when senior Elijah Brown hit two free throws for an 83-78 advantage with 1:30 left in regulation, but Arizona rallied to tie it and Payton Pritchard's attempt at a game-winner at the buzzer didn't fall.
It was a different story in overtime, as Pritchard collected a turnover by Arizona on the opening possession and then made a three-pointer at the other end. After some tough defense by Kenny Wooten forced a miss by Wildcats post Dusan Ristic, Troy Brown Jr. spun in an acrobatic layin just before the shot clock expired, and Oregon led 88-83. The lead remained five at 90-85 when Rawle Alkins broke free for a dunk and was fouled by Wooten, but Alkins drew a technical for jawing at Wooten after the basket, denying the Wildcats a chance to grab momentum.
Elijah Brown made the two free throws for the technical. After Alkins completed his three-point play to make it 92-88, MiKyle McIntosh hit the dagger, a three-pointer for Oregon's biggest lead all night, 95-88. "We wanted this game," said UO junior Paul White, whose offensive rebound kept the ball with the Ducks prior to McIntosh's three. "Everybody was locked in and focused. From MiKyle to Elijah all the way down, whoever played, they made big plays."
Two of the more sublime impact players Saturday night were reserve wings Keith Smith and Abu Kigab. They combined for five steals and six rebounds, providing jolts of energy whenever the Ducks needed one. With the Ducks down 36-28 late in the first half, Kigab made a steal and Troy Brown finished at the other end to get the Ducks within six. Then, in the second half, Kigab's steal set up Elijah Brown's three-pointer that put Oregon up 65-64, the Ducks' first lead of the night.
"They got the crowd into it, got some of those turnovers started," UO coach Dana Altman said of Smith and Kigab. "The energy they brought when we pressed, they were hitting us with punches and that was the only jab we could throw back. We weren't gonna beat 'em up inside."
Arizona had opened the game with a haymaker, making six straight baskets on its first six possessions and grabbing the first seven rebounds of the game. The Ducks made four of their first five three-point attempts to stay within shouting distance, but ultimately won by outrebounding the Wildcats 30-28 the rest of the game, and scoring 20 points off the 17 Arizona turnovers.
Brown's three-pointer for a 65-64 second-half lead came during a span of five straight stops by the Ducks on defense, and Pritchard followed with a three-pointer of his own to cap what ended up being a 13-0 run to a 68-64 lead. The game remained tight the next few minutes, with White finally putting the Ducks up five on a three-pointer for an 81-76 advantage with 2:41 left in regulation. Oregon wasn't able to finish it off from there, but the Ducks were in control throughout overtime, earning a signature victory for the season.
Who Stood Out: Elijah Brown followed up his 19-point effort in Thursday's win over Arizona State by scoring 30 against Arizona, half on 15-of-17 free-throw shooting. McIntosh also had a memorable senior night, scoring 20 points and grabbing five rebounds — with all five boards coming after halftime. White managed 16 points and was in on many of the double- and triple-teams Oregon used against Ayton, who had 28 points with 18 rebounds. Pritchard added 13 points with eight assists, against just one turnover.
What It Means: The Ducks were intent on keeping themselves in NCAA Tournament consideration, and gave their resume a huge boost by beating the Wildcats. Regardless of the circumstances swirling around the game, it was an inspired performance by the home team, fueled by the most enthusiastic crowd of the season.