Five minutes into the second half and Oregon found itself on its heels with UC Irvine charging hard. The Ducks had just taken blow after blow from the Anteaters, giving up a 14-0 run to begin the half after leading by 12 at the break.
But as with Oregon’s recent surge over the last month, the Ducks refused to fold.
Led by Ehab Amin and Payton Pritchard, No. 12 Oregon reeled off a 27-10 run over the next 10 minutes to secure its spot in the Sweet-16 with a 73-54 victory over No. 13 UC Irvine. It will be the third time in four years the Ducks have reached the Sweet-16 — this time facing No. 1 Virginia of the South Region in Louisville.
“E (Amin) came in and we finally scored a basket, and our energy level got back to where it was in the first half — and from there the guys really played hard and really played well,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said of the second half. “I’m really happy for them that they’ve been able to do this. I’m really pleased with their effort, their fight, and they’re so together right now.”
Amin’s energy off the bench is what changed the outcome of the game for the Ducks. Right after checking in, he immediately grabbed a defensive rebound and drilled a three-pointer from the left wing, ending the Anteaters run and giving Oregon a lead it wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the game.
“Ehab came in and brought great energy. He broke the ice for us on that three ball he hit,” Pritchard said. “It kind of just boosted our confidence a little bit, and we brought more energy on defense.”
He finished the game with 12 points, going a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the arc, with six rebounds and three steals — being a +27 in just 26 minutes played.
Pritchard continued his hot streak, finishing with game-highs of 18 points and seven assists, chipping in four rebounds. Louis King added 16 points, knocking down 4-of-7 from beyond the arc — 13 of which came in the second half.
Oregon’s defense continued to shine in the win, holding UC Irvine to 20-of-51 (39.2-percent) from the floor and 5-of-18 (27.8-percent) from beyond the arc. Apart from the Anteater burst to begin the second half, the Ducks limited them to 5-for-16 (31.3-percent) the rest of the way, forcing six turnovers in the process.
“They were the better team tonight,” UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner said of the Ducks. “They played at an incredible level in a game that coming in tonight I thought we were going to win.”
The beginning of the game was a stalemate for the most part, with each team struggling to find offense. Oregon led 17-15 with under eight minutes to play before outscoring UC Irvine 18-8 the rest of the half.
Kenny Wooten was sensational for the Ducks in the second half, using his elite athleticism to frustrate Anteaters. He finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks, helping fuel the big runs in the first and second halves.
“I’m content with my play, but I’m really, really happy that my team is going well,” Wooten said. “I wouldn’t be able to play this well without being able to play with my teammates.”
Oregon now turns its attention to Virginia with a spot in the Elite Eight at stake on Thursday. Tipoff is set for 6:57 p.m. and will air on TBS.