Oregon ducks into NCAA field through back door
EUGENE — It was iffy, but in the end the Oregon Ducks made it back to the NCAA tournament.
Oregon received a No. 9 seed in the South Region and will face Mississippi State on Friday in Little Rock, Ark.
Oregon (18-13) was considered a bubble team for the tournament. The team watched the selection show on television at the Casanova Center on campus.
"There was so much speculation about were we going to be in or not; to finally see our name come up on that board, it was a big relief," forward Joevan Catron said. "Now we gotta get ready to go to work."
The Ducks returned four starters from a team that reached the final eight in the NCAA tournament after winning the Pac-10 tournament. They started 8-1 this season, but losses to Nebraska and upstart Oakland (Mich.) at home in December started a downturn.
The Ducks were defeated by No. 21 Washington State in the quarterfinals of the Pacific-10 Tournament. Oregon had been the only team that advanced to the semifinals in every Pac-10 tournament since the event resumed in 2002.
The Ducks won their final three games of the regular season to raise their conference record to 9-9, but no Pac-10 team had been invited to the NCAA tournament before with less than 10 league wins.
"I know we've had a lot of ups and downs and a lot of people didn't think we we're going to go, but I did. But a (ninth-seed)? That was a surprise," forward Maarty Leunen said. "We've got a great opportunity. We're in, so hopefully we can make another magical run."
Leunen averages 15.2 points and 9.2 rebounds for the Ducks. Malik Hairston leads the team in scoring with 16.1 points per game.
"I didn't know what to expect, but I am very grateful," Hairston said about making the tournament. "We have another opportunity, now we have to take advantage of it."
Mississippi State (22-10) was upset 64-60 by Georgia in the semifinals of the SEC tournament in Atlanta. Mississippi State is making its first return to the tournament since 2005. That's not that long ago, but the Bulldogs are so young only senior Charles Rhodes was on the team then.
Point guard Jamont Gordon is averaging 17.3 points and 6.3 rebounds for the Bulldogs.
"It's a dream come true," Gordon said. "I'm definitely ready to play."