SAN JOSE , Calif. — The No. 12 seed Ducks are riding high, winners of nine in a row. After extending its win streak with a first-round win over No. 5 seed Wisconsin, the Ducks had reason to celebrate. Each wins moves them closer to their ultimate goal, but a Tournament run has been on the thoughts of Oregon players all season, especially seniors Ehab Amin and Paul White.
Both White and Amin left their schools for different reasons, but they both transferred to Oregon with the same goal: an NCAA Tournament run.
Amin transferred to Oregon after four seasons with Texas A&M Corpus Christi. The defensive-focused guard dreamed of playing in the NCAA Tournament, but his teams always fell short. He made the decision to transfer to Oregon to fulfill that dream, but after an 0-2 weekend in Los Angeles, that dream once again looked out of reach.
Yet, Amin and his teammates kept believing. The Ducks defeated an NCAA Tournament team in Arizona State on February 28, and on March 2, Oregon dismantled Arizona on senior night.
That small two-game win streak, unknowingly at the time, united this team. It set things in motion for a Tournament run, and Amin showed he never gave up hope.
“I mean it is March,” Amin said in the Arizona postgame press conference. “Everybody came here for a reason. It’s sad that we became this close, this late, but it’s not too late. Coaches told us how important this trip coming up is.”
Fast forward to Friday, and Amin finally got to experience what it’s like to play in the NCAA Tournament.
“Nothing better,” Amin said. “Best feeling in the world. I think that’s why this whole team came here. That Final Four run, that Elite Eight run, 2-3 years ago, we all saw it and we all came here for the same reason. We believed in coach Altman and he believed in us and that’s why we’re all here.”
Although they are in the midst of fulfilling what they set out to do this season, there is still a lot of work to be done. The Ducks know there are no more bounce-back wins. Each win not only extends the season and extends the careers of Amin and White, it puts them one step closer to the goal they set at the beginning of the season.
“They both chose Oregon for this moment,” assistant coach Tony Stubblefield said. “We have had great success leading up to them coming, and they had seen that when we were recruiting them. That played a big part in them choosing Oregon. They’re getting rewarded for taking a chance on Oregon. We don’t want it to end.”
The Ducks had to quickly flush the emotions from Friday in order to focus on their next opponent. Standing in their way of advancing and lengthening this run is No. 13 seed, and winners of 17 straight, UC Irvine.
“Winning is fun, this is what we’re all here for,” White said. “Everybody has been in positive spirits, but the one thing we have done is we haven’t gotten bigheaded. We’re not satisfied with what we’ve done. We feel like there’s more in us.”
Follow Maverick Pallack on Twitter @mavpallack