By Josh Dubow, AP Sports Writer
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Oregon was stumbling toward the end of a disappointing season until a strong turnaround led the Ducks to the Pac-12 title and an NCAA Tournament bid.
Oregon is not looking to slow down any time soon.
Payton Pritchard scored 19 points, Kenny Wooten protected the rim with four blocks and 12th-seeded Oregon extended its surprising March run by beating No. 5 seed Wisconsin 72-54 Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“It showed everybody today, it wasn’t a fluke,” Pritchard said. “We’re here to play. We’re here to win it.”
The Ducks (24-12) won four games in four days last week just to make the NCAAs then followed it with an impressive victory over a higher-seeded opponent. Oregon advanced to play No. 13 seed UC Irvine (31-5) on Sunday in the second round of the South Region.
Louis King added 17 points, Paul White scored all 14 points of his points in the second half and Wooten had nine points, six rebounds and the tone-setting blocks to give the Ducks their ninth straight win.
“To see them come like this and have so much fun, that’s why we coach, just to see guys get together and have fun and play their tails off,” coach Dana Altman said. “That’s what they’re doing right now.”
Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson each scored 14 points to lead the Badgers (23-11).
The game was tied early in the second half when the Ducks used their athleticism to take over. Wooten scored on back-to-back dunks and White followed with a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 42-35.
White then blocked a shot by Happ on one end and converted on an impressive alley-oop slap from Pritchard on the other to make it 46-37 with 12:31 to play.
The Badgers tried to cut into that deficit but King made a 3-pointer and two free throws to build the lead to 10 points with less than five minutes to play. Wooten then put the exclamation point on the victory with two blocks on one trip before Pritchard’s layup made it 59-47 and the rout was on.
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard lamented a poor seven-minute stretch for the Badgers but was proud of his squad for making the tournament a year after the Badgers missed the field.
“It doesn’t tarnish. It stings for a while, but it doesn’t tarnish what this group accomplished to get to this point,” Gard said.
Oregon: The Ducks were expected to be here after being ranked 14th in the preseason and picked first in the Pac-12. But a season-ending injury to star freshman Bol Bol early in the season helped derail the season. The Ducks lost at home to Texas Southern, had an epic collapse against UCLA and then lost three straight in February before this current run.
Wisconsin: Happ returned for his senior season in part to get the Badgers back to the tournament after their 19-year streak ended with a losing record last year. He delivered all season, averaging 17.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game to help Wisconsin finish fourth in the Big Ten. But he ended his career on a down note. He was held to 12 points, eight rebounds, zero assists and five turnovers.
“There were extra bodies around me all the time,” he said. “So they were trying to force me to take it out and have other guys make plays.”
SECOND HALF SURGE
The Ducks shot 70.8 percent from the floor in the second half and made five of their six tries from 3-point range. On the defensive end, they held Wisconsin to 30.6 percent shooting and just 4 of 19 from 3-point range.
Oregon advances to play the Anteaters for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.