Postgame: Oregon coach, players assess opening victory over Iona at Golden 1 Center
Their brother and friend sat on the sidelined, fidgeting on a chair he didn’t want to occupy, wearing the knee brace every athlete dreads.
Chris Boucher’s basketball career at Oregon came to a sudden and painful end last week when the senior forward suffered a torn ACL in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament. But the Ducks played inspired without him, determined to prove that there’s more than UCLA and Arizona from this conference on display at NCAA Tournament.
Seeded third in the Midwest Region, Oregon stormed to a 27-point first-half lead, withstood a rally and coasted 93-77 over No. 14 seed Iona on Friday afternoon at Golden 1 Center to open a four-game slate in the venue’s first dose of March Madness.
Tyler Dorsey scored 24 points for Oregon, Dillon Brooks 18, Jordan Bell 17 and Payton Pritchard 16 as the Ducks shot 56.6-percent from the floor and outrebounded the Gaels of New York 41-27 to win an NCAA Tournament game for the fifth consecutive season.
Boucher, a key rebounder and inside presence for the Ducks this season, could offer only some shimmy-shake dance moves on the sideline during timeouts, careful not to overexert his damaged left knee.
“Chris out, it’s tough for us,” said Oregon forward Dylan Ennis, who set a defensive tone with seven rebounds. “He brings so much, especially on the defensive end, but we have a job (to do). Like coach says, it’s not going to be one person who does what Chris does. It’s going to be all of us.
“He’s physically not there (on the floor with us), but he’s so much a part of our team, encouraging us.”
Oregon’s 27-point lead came on the strength of inside plays and fast breaks but the Ducks’ advantage was trimmed to 13 late in the half. Oregon shot 63.6 percent in the first half and had just three turnovers, and the Ducks used a 10-1 lead to open the second half to seize control again.
Oregon (30-5) is a victory shy of tying the school win record set last season for an Elite Eight team. The record at Oregon is 31, set in 1944-45. Oregon’s NCAA history is unique. The Ducks won the first NCAA Tournament in 1939 – when Oregon went by “Tall Firs” instead of the Ducks – with a starting unit that included four Oregonians that posted a 29-5 record.
Oregon coach Dana Altman said he was impressed with Golden 1 Center and encouraged by his team’s effort. The Ducks improved to 25-1 when leading at the half and 25-2 when scoring more than 70 points.
“First of all, beautiful arena,” he said. “Sacramento has been great to us. The downtown (hotel) where we’re staying, everything is very nice. I love the arena. I think it’s first-class; locker rooms, everything about it. People have been great. Very appreciative of the community and how we’ve been treated.”
As for how well the Ducks are playing, Altman said: “We’ve made progress, and I think a lot of good things (happened) there in the game today, and obviously, you’ve got to survive and advance. If we wouldn’t have had that stretch there, that four-minute stretch (when Iona rallied), I would have been really happy.”
The finality of their careers coming to a close hit Iona’s seniors. Jordan Washington led the Gales with 22 points and Sam Cassell Jr. had 16 points.
“I’m sad right now, and my college career is over, but I liked the ‘fighting it out’ in us in the second half,” said Cassell Jr., whose father enjoyed a long NBA career.
Said Iona coach Tim Cluess: “I want to congratulate Oregon. Heck of a basketball team. I can’t say enough good things about them. I like the fight in my guys. I love my guys here. They gave me everything they had. We might not have played the best game of the year, but we weren’t lacking in heart.”