LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The future, if there even was one, looked very dim on Feb. 23. The Ducks had just surrendered 62 second-half points to lose to UCLA and fell to 15-12 on the season and 6-8 in Pac-12 play.
Most people wrote them off, but the players and coaches kept their sights focused on righting the ship.
Oregon proceeded to rattle off 10 straight wins to not only capture the Pac-12 Tournament title and the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, but also get within a couple plays of defeating the No. 1 Virginia in the Sweet 16.
The game was Oregon’s season in a microcosm. The Ducks were down and seemed out of it in the first half, but when all seemed lost, they turned it on to make a lot of noise.
They overcame an eight-point halftime deficit to take the lead. Oregon’s crowd was electric after Louis King’s go-ahead 3-pointer with five minutes and 43 seconds left.
The game seemed to be another grind-it-out defensive victory for the Ducks, something that has carried them the last month.
However, Oregon’s shooters went cold. The Ducks failed to make a field goal for the remainder of the game. Virginia’s knockdown shooters weren’t great, but they did just enough to win the game.
“I feel really bad that we didn’t get it done, but I’m really proud of them for fighting their tails off the last month and overcoming some ups and downs,” head coach Dana Altman said. “They did a great job.”
Despite losing 53-49 to Virginia in a defensive battle, the Ducks battled until the very end, coming within two shots of advancing to the Elite Eight.
“We fought, we were right there,” point guard Payton Pritchard said. “That’s exactly where we wanted to be. Obviously it went their way tonight. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
Oregon missed the Tournament last year. The Ducks struggled with consistency all season and just couldn’t find the right rhythm to make a run. This season seemed to have the same script. There was miscommunication on the court and it seemed at times like players weren’t all there.
“To go from rock bottom and to get here, it’s pretty incredible,” Pritchard said. “From people not getting along at all to becoming brothers, I mean it’s amazing. I’m grateful for it.”
But something clicked Feb. 28 in the win against Arizona State. Rather than a late collapse, the Ducks dominated the Sun Devils in the second half. They followed that with a strong performance against Arizona a couple days later. After a wins over Washington State and the Pac-12 regular season champion, Washington, the Ducks were still looking from outside the bubble.
Then the four straight days of wins in Las Vegas commenced and the Ducks were dancing.
They were no longer a team that no one wanted to remember who couldn’t close out games, couldn’t score, couldn’t defend or couldn’t dance. They were a bracket busting teaching tool that will be remembered by players and coaches for years to come.
“It shows that we’re all fighters,” forward Kenny Wooten said. “We weren’t supposed to be here anyway. No one expected us to be here. We just kept grinding it out. I feel like this team just taught me a lot and I’m probably gonna take this with me forever.”
“[I will] definitely talk about how they fought adversity, there’s absolutely no doubt about that,” head coach Dana Altman said. “They could have gave into it, but we’ll judge this group on how they fought adversity.”
Follow Maverick Pallack on Twitter @mavpallack