Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Oregon advanced to the Sweet 16 of the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament with a dominant 95-80 victory over Iowa on Monday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The seventh-seeded Ducks used a 10-0 run during the latter stages of the first half to carry a 56-46 lead into halftime after a back-and-forth opening 18 minutes. The Hawkeyes, the No. 2 seed in the West Region, were unable to mount a serious comeback bid in the second half.
Iowa, led by Naismith Trophy finalist Luka Garza, cruised past 15th-seeded Grand Canyon in the first round, while Oregon’s tournament opener against VCU was canceled after the Rams were forced to withdraw from the event because of COVID-19 protocols.
Chris Duarte (ORE): 23 points, 7 assists
LJ Figueroa (ORE): 21 points, 7 rebounds
Will Richardson (ORE): 19 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds
Eugene Omoruyi (ORE): 17 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists
Luka Garza (UI): 36 points, 9 rebounds
Joe Wieskamp (UI): 17 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists
Oregon’s Scoring Depth Is A Major Weapon
The Ducks entered March Madness as one of college basketball’s most underappreciated teams. They posted a 20-6 record, including a 14-4 record to finish atop the Pac-12 standings, and they’d won 11 of their last 13 games coming into the tournament.
Part of the reason they didn’t generate more mainstream hype is the lack of a singular star. They don’t have a Naismith Trophy finalist like Garza or a top 2021 NBA draft prospect like Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham.
Instead, they relied on their depth to put constant pressure on opposing defenses, and Monday’s game showcased how effective balanced scoring can be on the sport’s biggest stage.
Oregon already had four players who had scored in double figures by halftime. It was a tremendous display of team basketball, whether it be an extra pass on the perimeter to create an open three or everybody running the floor on a fast break to create a simple finish at the rim.
The result was shooting 55.9 percent from the field with 25 assists and 11 turnovers.
So, while a player like Garza or Cunningham is a matchup nightmare, the same can be said for a team like the Ducks that can generate scoring from all five positions on a consistent basis. They can score inside or outside, on the break or in a set offense and most opponents don’t have enough reliable defenders to answer.
The bottom line is Oregon is capable of making a serious run if the offense continues to click on all cylinders like it did Friday.
Garza Shines But Lacks Support In Upset Loss
Garza did everything in his power to keep Iowa in the game. He scored 22 points in the first half while knocking down eight of his 10 shots from the field.
The Hawkeyes simply couldn’t find the type of sustained spark necessary from the perimeter to keep pace with the high-flying Ducks. Aside from Garza, Iowa’s other players combined to shoot 35.4 percent (17 of 48) from the field, and the team shot just 25 percent on threes in the loss.
The early-round exit isn’t what the program had in mind after a terrific regular season that featured eight wins over ranked opponents, but Oregon represented a tough matchup on paper even before they received the benefit of a little extra rest, and that came to fruition.
Garza isn’t receiving much attention ahead of the 2021 NBA draft, but he’s made a lot of progress toward rounding out his offensive skill set to better fit the modern pro game. If he can post some strong athletic testing numbers during the pre-draft process, he could improve his stock.
The Hawkeyes’ search for their first NCAA tournament title will continue, though. They came closest in 1956, when they lost to San Francisco in the championship game.
Oregon moves on to face either No. 3 seed Kansas or No. 6 seed USC in one of the two Sweet 16 games in the West Region on Sunday. The Jayhawks and Trojans face off later Monday.
Iowa finishes its 2020-21 season with a 22-9 final record.