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MailTribune.com
  • Into the Unknown

    No. 12 seed Oregon to open NCAA tourney with No. 14 Oklahoma State
  • In the space of a week, Oregon ran an emotional gamut.
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  • In the space of a week, Oregon ran an emotional gamut.
    The Ducks ended the regular season with a thud — losing their final two games — then turned around and won the Pacific-12 Conference tournament.
    Now Oregon heads into the NCAA tournament as the No. 12 seed in the Midwest Region. The Ducks (26-8) will face No. 14 Oklahoma State, the fifth seed in the Midwest, on Thursday in San Jose, Calif.
    Coach Dana Altman believes Oregon is stronger because of the roller-coaster they've been on.
    "A week ago at this time I think it's safe to say that we were probably as low as we could get. But we bounced back. I think it showed a little bit of the character of our team," Altman said. "Guys stayed with it. They accepted our coaching, our criticism, and we bounced back."
    The Ducks were ranked as high as No. 10 this season but struggled some after losing freshman point guard Dominic Artis to a foot injury in January. Even after he returned, Oregon was stunned with losses in its final two games, at Utah and Colorado, which cost the Ducks the league's regular-season title.
    The losses also dropped the Ducks out of the AP Top 25. Oregon would finish 12-6 in the Pac-12 for a share of second place.
    But the Pac-12 tournament was another story. Johnathan Loyd, who stepped in when Artis went down with his injury, came off the bench to score a season-high 19 points and Oregon defeated UCLA 78-69 in the title game on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
    "We lost the opportunity to win one championship," said Loyd, the tournament MVP. "We said let's go get another one."
    Oregon has been to the NCAA tournament 10 times, the last in 2008 when the Ducks lost to Mississippi State in the first round. Oregon won the national championship once, in the tournament's first year, 1939.
    Oregon was the lowest seeded of the five Pac-12 teams that made the tournament. Although some questioned the Ducks' seeding considering the team's record and victory in the league tournament, Altman — the Pac-12 Coach of the Year — was succinct on Sunday when asked about it: "It doesn't matter."
    The fifth-seeded Cowboys (24-8) finished third in the Big 12 behind co-champions Kansas and Kansas State. They are making their third appearance in the tournament in the past five seasons under coach Travis Ford, but first since 2010.
    The team is led by freshman point guard Marcus Smart, who won the Big 12's Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors. He is averaging 15.4 points and 5.7 rebounds.
    "I think they were under-seeded, especially with them winning the Pac-12. But that seeding, it really doesn't matter," Smart said. "All these teams are good, regardless of if you won your conference or not. You're in the NCAA tournament for a reason."
    Oklahoma State has been to the tournament 24 times in its history, advancing to the Final Four six times.
    It will be the teams' second meeting. The Ducks defeated Oklahoma State 68-55 in a game in Portland in 1987.
    The winner of Thursday night's game will face the winner of the game between Saint Louis and New Mexico State on Saturday.
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