SAN JOSE, Calif. — Advil and adrenaline work wonders.
Oregon center Kenny Wooten drew a charge in the first half, but he hurt his left shoulder in the process. He grimaced on the bench while the trainers looked at him, and eventually he left for the locker room before the half ended.
Would Oregon’s best defensive player be out of its biggest game of the season? He popped some Advil at halftime, taped his shoulder and ran out for the second half.
“I thought once he’d get the adrenaline flowing he’d be fine,” head coach Dana Altman said.
He put on a show in the second half. His four blocks and multiple dunks, combined with point guard Payton Pritchard’s consistent aggression, propelled the Ducks to blowout Wisconsin 72-54 to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks suffocated Wisconsin star Ethan Happ while Wooten and Pritchard balled out.
Pritchard was the instigator of the offense in the first half. He attacked the rim and hit layups over Wisconsin big men. He took five of Oregon’s first seven shots, and he also had 12 of Oregon’s 25 halftime points.
The distance didn’t matter. He hit shots from deep and ones at the rim. Oregon’s player with the most NCAA Tournament experience showed it. He finished with 19 points, five rebounds and eight assists.
“I think Payton realized early that he was able to get in there,” Altman said. “He did have some turnovers with it, but I thought his aggressiveness, both offensively and defensively, was good for us.”
But neither team pulled away in the first half, but Wooten returned and dominated.
He had two dunks within 16 second of each other after halftime. One came from an offensive rebound while the other came from a Will Richardson lob in transition. Oregon’s momentum was building as its lead grew to four points. Wooten’s numbers look good too — nine points, six rebounds and four blocks.
“Kenny is such a force in there,” Pritchard said. “Kenny saves us a lot. The man’s a beast.”
Oregon’s lead was seven with 12 and a half minutes left. Wisconsin star Ethan Happ turned to the basket and attempted a righty hook-shot, but Wooten swatted it to Richardson. He passed the ball to Pritchard, and Oregon ran the Wooten-Pritchard pick-and-roll that had worked so well all game.
Because of Pritchard’s early shooting success, two Wisconsin players followed him, leaving Wooten open for the alley-oop. His head almost hit the rim, and the game felt like it would go in Oregon’s direction.
“They were trying to defend Payton really hard, hedge him super hard, and it opened up the lane because they were trying to take away the lift man too, so it opened up the middle so I would just go and finish the play,” Wooten said.
It was the game in a microcosm. Wooten made a great defensive play, shutting down Wisconsin’s All-American, while Pritchard and Wooten owned the other side of the floor.
Oregon’s defense was phenomenal. Happ only had 12 points, no assists and five turnovers, one of the worst performances he’s had this season. Wisconsin shot 33.3 percent from the field.
“We wanted to make sure that when we did double him, our hands were high, that he couldn't get it out of the double easy,” Altman said, “I thought our guys really were aware of him. And then Kenny got a couple of his shots, and I think that helped us.”
The Ducks are now on a nine game win streak. Reaching the NCAA Tournament was cute, but there is more to come.
“I think it showed everybody that it wasn’t no fluke,” Pritchard said. “We’re here to play. We’re here to win it.”