Oregon Ducks cruise past No. 2 Iowa, set program record for points in an NCAA Tournament game

Oregon Ducks Basketball
Oregon's Aaron Estrada, center, and teammates celebrate their team's win over Oregon State and their second consecutive Pac-12 regular-season conference title following an NCAA college basketball game in Corvallis, Ore., Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Amanda Loman)

INDIANAPOLIS — A competitive back-and-forth opening against No. 2 seed Iowa set the table for a dominant victory by the No. 7 seed Oregon Ducks men’s basketball team on Monday morning. Four Ducks scored at least 17 points led by guard Chris Duarte, who hit 9-of-12 shots for 23 points and seven assists in the 95-80 win.

By putting on an offensive clinic against an Iowa team that played solid defense in the Big 10 this season, the Oregon Ducks set a program record for its most point scored in an NCAA Tournament game.

With both sides tied at 46 nearing the end of the first half, Oregon surged in a 10-0 run to establish its double-digit lead to end the first half. That late run was capped by a crafty play by Duarte, who pump-faked and drew a foul on a 3-pointer near the end of the shot clock.

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A 6-foot-6 senior guard, Duarte’s NBA Draft stock is sure to rise based on his performance in Indy. The PAC-12 Player of the Year in 2021, Duarte is following his former teammate, Payton Pritchard’s path to the NBA with diligent work ethic, development in the Ducks’ system and a strong showing in high-intensity scenarios.

Oregon took that halftime lead and ran with it thanks to an incredible two-way effort from its shortened rotation. Much of its success in building that second-half lead can be credited to a full-team effort in limiting center Luka Garza’s scoring output. Coming out of the halftime break, the Oregon Ducks deployed a tactic most commonly associated with defending reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo — The Wall.

In this strategy, players defend an opponent heading downhill by formulating a wall around the paint. In this instance, Oregon did a nice job of forcing Garza to battle through double-teams and pass out of the post. Building a wall only works if defenders can close out on shooters — Iowa’s shooters outside of Garza shot just 20.8 percent from 3-point land. The Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year finalist still managed to beat the defense and drain some triples to end his scoring drought midway through the second half. He finished his college career by leading this game in scoring and rebounding with 36 points and nine boards.

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Still, Oregon found reinforcements in its freshman center from Cameroon — Franck Kepnang, whose 6-foot-11 stature and athletic ability made life difficult for Garza. He contributed four points, two blocks, some physical screens and a ton of energy in a short amount of playing time.

The Ducks also benefitted from a monster performance by seniors Eugene Omoruyi and LJ Figueroa. Using their size, length and lateral quickness, this tandem spaced the floor on offense, clearing the paint for guards to attack. In the process, they generated open looks from 3-point land and in the paint. Figueroa lit the Hawkeyes up from 3-point land, hitting 5-of-9 threes for 21 points, seven rebounds and three steals.

Omoruyi had his hands all over this game, battling with Garza in the low post and attacking him on offense. He stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. He was asked to be an integral part of the team’s gameplan, facilitating offense for others and taking on a daunting defensive assignment. Though he didn’t have quite as many flashy plays as some of his teammates, Omoruyi is the unsung hero of Oregon’s win.

Oregon will play against the winner of USC vs. Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. That matchup will take place next weekend.

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