Ducks have some unfinished business
EUGENE — Dillon Brooks can hold a grudge.
As he prepared to lead third-seeded Oregon into the regional semifinals for the second consecutive year against Michigan on Thursday night in Kansas City, Mo., the junior recalled his fourth college game and first defeat as a Duck when the Wolverines won 70-63 in the Legends Classic at Barclays Center.
“I remember those guys from my freshman year in Brooklyn,” Brooks said. “We want payback and revenge.”
Brooks had 14 points and seven rebounds, and Casey Benson and Jordan Bell also played for the Ducks on Nov. 24, 2014.
Seventh-seeded Michigan (26-11) has three starters remaining from that victory over Oregon, including guards Derrick Walton Jr., who averages a team-leading 15.4 points per game, and Zak Irvin, who is second at 12.9. Mark Donnal started that game for Michigan but has come off the bench this season. DJ Wilson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman combined to play four minutes against Oregon, but have emerged as starters during their junior season.
Michigan has turned into America’s team after its plane slid off the runway following an aborted departure in high winds on March 8. The Wolverines followed that scare by winning six games in 11 days, including four victories to capture the Big Ten tournament, then beat Oklahoma State and Louisville to open the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m happy for them,” said Bell, who had two points and five rebounds two years ago against Michigan. “What they went through, almost dying in a plane crash, that could make anyone play with a lot of passion.”
The Ducks (31-5) watched Michigan’s 73-69 victory over second-seeded Louisville on Sunday morning, just a few hours before they beat Rhode Island 75-72 to set up Thursday’s matchup.
“Those guys have got a lot of heart,” Brooks said. “They’re hot right now, so we have to fight their dribble and play really hard on defense.”
Brooks isn’t bothering with the theory that Michigan has become a team of destiny with the nation rooting for it to reach the Final Four.
“I don’t see destiny, I want to go out there and crush that,” he said. “We’re just going to come out and play hard. I feel like these guys don’t want to go home.”
Oregon coach Dana Altman saw the Wolverines’ 71-56 victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game before the NCAA bracket was announced on March 12.
“They’re playing with such confidence and on such a roll,” he said. “It’s like Rhode Island, which had won nine in a row and was playing its best basketball. We had to grind one out.”
Michigan has won seven consecutive games, including the past five against teams that reached the NCAA Tournament.
“They’re hot and playing well, so we know we have another team that’s really confident and we have to get ready for them,” said Benson, who played 23 scoreless minutes against Michigan as a freshman.
The Wolverines trailed Louisville 36-28 at halftime and fell behind by nine in the second half.
“I saw the first half, but I didn’t see the comeback, so when I heard they won, I was surprised,” Oregon freshman Keith Smith said. “It shows you have to play the whole games.
“Coach tells us it’s a 40-minute game and you can’t change how you play, you have to keep grinding it out.”
Altman lost his previous NCAA Tournament game against Michigan coach John Beilein when West Virginia beat Creighton 63-61 in the first round in 2005.
“Coach Beilein does such a great job,” Altman said. “Beating Louisville with their athletes. ... They’re hard to guard. What he does offensively is really unique and special and they’re an outstanding offensive team.”