SAN JOSE, Calif. — Oregon’s second round game against UC Irvine is a battle between two of the hottest teams in the country. The Ducks are on a nine game win streak, while the Anteaters are on a 17-game win streak, the longest in the country.
Both teams are coming from first-round upsets, and yet neither feels like a Cinderella.
“We've heard the background of this team, that they haven't lost since January. No matter what conference you're in, no matter what division you're playing in, that's still pretty tough to do,” Oregon senior forward Paul White said. “And for that we for sure have to respect them. Definitely not a Cinderella, though.”
UC Irvine is an upperclassmen-laden team. The Anteaters rely on veteran guards on offense while shutting down the interior on defense.
In the first round against Kansas State, junior guard Max Hazzard flew around screens and got open beyond the 3-point arc. He scored 19 points on 5-of-11 shooting from 3-point range.
“He’s a really good player, really fast,” Oregon guard Ehab Amin said. “He shoots the ball really well. His teammates do a good job of getting him open and spacing. He’s going to be really hard to guard.”
He is UC Irvine’s leading scorer at 12.7 point per game, but his backcourt partner Evan Leonard is not far behind him. Leonard averages 11.3 points per game and is shooting an impressive 40 percent from 3-point range. The two combine for a potent one-two punch.
But the Anteaters give significant minutes to Stanford-transfer, and guard, Robert Cartwright. He is not the athlete and shooter that Hazzard and Leonard are, but he provides veteran knowledge and a steady hand. He’s more experienced since Oregon last played him, and he has improved his offense as well.
“He looks like a different player,” Oregon guard Payton Pritchard said. “He’s more confident. He looks more confident driving, shooting the ball. I’m happy to see that. But I’m looking forward to the matchup. Played him before so I know what he’s about.”
Pritchard has been hot and is coming from a game against Wisconsin where he was aggressive offensively. His offensive explosion is a big reason why the Ducks will play on Sunday.
“He's an outstanding point guard, one that we fully respect,” UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner said. “I think we got a great matchup for him in Robert Cartwright, who's also a veteran, and it won't just be Robert's job to disrupt the rhythm that he's had. We'll try to do that as a team.”
Both teams are stout defensively. UC Irvine is the best in the country at defending two-point shots, while Oregon has been one of the best defensive teams in the country over the last three weeks.
“[Oregon’s] got unusual length,” Turner said. “They've got size and length more like an NBA team than a typical college team. So the looks that they're able to give to teams are different, and I think they've figured that out as this season has gonna long.”
Both teams feel like they’re in the second round for a reason despite their double-digit seeding, and both teams don’t want to go home yet.
“We know we're going to have to execute and play as good of a game if not the best game we played all year to beat them,” Cartwright said. “We believe we can, and we're going to prepare all today and tomorrow to get ready for that.”