Oregon is happy to carry any label it’s given in the NCAA tournament — all the way into the round of 16.
Damyean Dotson scored 23 points, Carlos Emory added 14 points and the hot-shooting Ducks sprinted past fourth-seeded Saint Louis 74-57 on Saturday night.
“We just decided as a team we’re going to go out there and we don’t care who we’re going to play,” said Oregon’s Arsalan Kazemi, who had eight points and 16 rebounds.
Dotson made his first five 3-pointers to propel Oregon (28-8) into the second weekend for the first time since 2007, when it lost to eventual repeat champion Florida in the regional final. The Ducks made 8 of 11 shots from beyond the arc, while the Billikens finished 3 for 21 from long range.
After the NCAA selection committee turned some heads for seeding Oregon so low, the Ducks dismissed two favorites by a combined 30 points in San Jose. Oregon will play No. 1 overall seed Louisville in the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis next. The Cardinals routed Colorado State 82-56 in Lexington, Ky.
“I’m excited but, man, it’s just great to get to see those guys in the locker room all fired up,” Ducks coach Dana Altman said. “And for our fans that have waited for this, and for our state, it’s good.”
Not so much for Saint Louis.
Kwamain Mitchell scored 18 points and Dwayne Evans had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Billikens (28-7), who set a school record for wins this season following the death of coach Rick Majerus in December. Instead of a storybook finish, Saint Louis settled for another third-round exit.
The Billikens lost in the round of 32 year to No. 1 seed Michigan State last year after snapping a 12-year NCAA tournament drought. The deepest run the school ever made was to the quarterfinals in 1952, when there were only 16 teams in the tournament.
“It’s been a good ride this year,” said Evans, fighting back tears. “Probably one of the funnest years of basketball I’ve ever played. And it’s had the most adversity, so it’s ironic.”
Oregon’s size and speed just overwhelmed Saint Louis from the start.
The Ducks’ defense extended into a full-court press, forcing Saint Louis to play faster than it wanted. With a series of stops providing easy breakaways, Oregon’s bright black-and-yellow uniforms blurred all over the court.
The open space played perfectly into what the Ducks do best: find seams and shoot. Dotson, Emory and E.J. Singler (14 points) each made a 3-pointer before Johnathan Loyd capped the 25-8 run to end the half with another from the top of the arc in the final seconds, lifting his hand in the air after giving Oregon a 35-19 lead at the break.
The Billikens blitzed the Ducks in the first few minutes of the second half. Evans converted two quick layups and Mitchell made a 3-pointer to slice Oregon’s lead to 37-26.
The small sprinkling of blue-and-white faithful that sat behind the Saint Louis bench stood and cheered. A few brief bursts withstanding, the arena had an overwhelming Pac-12 flavor as Oregon and California — which was facing Syracuse in the night session as part of the East bracket — flooded the facility with fans.
The Ducks built back a 44-28 lead carried by its defense, including Loyd stealing the ball from blue-haired Cody Ellis and finishing strong with a layup on the other end. Saint Louis made a couple of late runs but never got closer than 11 points.
“They’re not the average 12 seed,” Saint Louis forward Cory Remekun said.
The Billikens had to endure a few late highlights that will surely illuminate Oregon’s run even more. The Ducks just about put the game away when Dotson tossed a midair bounce pass down the sideline for Emory, whose corner 3-pointer put Oregon ahead 58-39 with 8:16 remaining.
Dotson is 16 of 30 from beyond the arc since the start of the Pac-12 tournament. He had been 0 for 12 from long range in the five previous games.
Kazemi added to the rout by finishing an alley-oop from Loyd late. The Iranian-born player grabbed 33 rebounds in the two tournament games.
Indeed, the Quack Attack has been at its best this March.
Shedding its seeding more with every game, there is no doubting this team anymore. All the Ducks have done is tie for second place in the Pac-12 in the regular season, win the conference tournament and beat No. 5 seed Oklahoma State 68-55 before sending Saint Louis home.
“I knew we were going to do something special this year and know it’s a matter of just doing it,” said Loyd, who had nine points, six assists and five rebounds. “It’s this group of guys. We have all the pieces. We know we can play with anybody. We were a top 10 team once and then we had a little setback. We can play with the big boys.”