by Rob Moseley
MILWAUKEE — When Oregon entered the halftime locker room Saturday, during its third-round NCAA Tournament game against Wisconsin, the Ducks brought with them a 12-point lead.
Players were understandably energized. The chatter and clapping was nonstop, as the Ducks broke down what worked in the first 20 minutes, and talked about what they needed to do in the second.
"Hey, zero-zero man," forward Richard Amardi said, guarding against overconfidence.
"We've got to be able to handle their best shot," another chimed in.
"Defense, fellas," sophomore Damyean Dotson added. "Keep getting stops."
The coaching staff sat or stood around the perimeter of the locker room, scanning box scores. There was a lot to like. Oregon had set the tempo, in a half with 86 combined points. The Ducks had 19 fastbreak points, seven assists on 15 baskets and just three turnovers.
One number, however, stood out to UO coach Dana Altman above the rest. Wisconsin had five offensive rebounds. The Badgers had turned those into just six second-chance points. But the number bothered him, and eliminating second-chance opportunities was among his primary messages entering the second half.
"I told you it would be a 40-minute fight," Altman told the Ducks. "We're just 20 minutes in."
After halftime, Oregon's worries proved prescient. The Badgers did indeed give the Ducks their best shot, a 25-9 run to open the half and take the lead. They did a better job of slowing down Oregon, which had zero fastbreak points.
And the Badgers had nine more offensive rebounds, and eight second-chance points, none bigger than a three-pointer by Ben Brust in the waning minutes that put Wisconsin ahead for good. The Badgers would go on to win 85-77 in the BMO Harris Bradley Center, ending the Ducks' season at 24-10 and denying them a second straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
"We didn't finish the first half as strong as we should have, and we definitely started the second half really bad," Altman told his team. "The momentum swung, and we just didn't get stops and rebounds."
Ultimately, the Ducks were bit by the same issues that plagued them all season. Throughout a 13-0 start, Altman harped on their defense and rebounding, knowing Oregon couldn't as easily survive lapses in the Pac-12. He proved correct, as the Ducks began conference play 3-8, before tightening up those deficiencies to win eight straight and make the NCAA Tournament.
In the second round on Thursday, the Ducks locked down BYU and won the battle of the boards. But in the second half Saturday, Wisconsin shot .484 — including 7-of-16 from three-point range — and outrebounded Oregon 22-11.
"You've got to live and die by something," Dotson said. "We've been trying to focus on defense and rebounding, and it hurt us in the end."
The Ducks both lived and died Saturday, quieting a heavily partisan crowd of 18,206 with a marvelous first half before being buried in a cascade of noise in the second.
"Push the tempo," Altman reminded the Ducks before they left the locker room for their pregame warmups. Oregon did, and Wisconsin was surprisingly willing to oblige. The Badgers shed their grind-it-out reputation by going back and forth in the first half, and suffering for it.
The No. 12-ranked and second-seeded Badgers (28-7) hung with the seventh-seeded Ducks for a time, taking a 21-20 lead that briefly energized the crowd. But Dotson and Jason Calliste hit three-pointers on consecutive possessions as Oregon retook the first-half lead for good.
Oregon used a 10-2 stretch to go ahead 40-31, then got consecutive Joseph Young threes to score nine straight. At halftime, the Ducks led 49-37.
"Stay active, run that floor," Altman told them in the locker room.
"Keep it in attack mode, but be patient," assistant Kevin McKenna added.
"It's all on the defense," assistant Tony Stubblefield said.
Those comments illustrated how much of a fight the staff knew Oregon was in for over the next 20 minutes. They were right.
In an ominous start to the second half, Wisconsin used an offensive rebound to score on its first possession. The Ducks couldn't get a stop through the first seven Badger possessions, as Wisconsin used a 17-6 lead to get within 55-54.
"We was like, that's their best shot," Dotson said. "We've got to pick it up and just try to get some stops. But they kept coming at us."
Wisconsin scored eight straight to take its first lead of the second half, 62-58. Buoyed by Young's 29 points — but very little team play, resulting in two second-half assists — the Ducks clawed back ahead, last leading at 75-74 on a Young three-pointer.
And then, the possession that will haunt the Ducks. The Badgers missed a three-pointer, two Ducks converged, the ball squirted free, Wisconsin regained possession. Again: A missed Wisconsin three, two Ducks with a chance to corral it, but ultimately another offensive rebound.
"We just didn't go after it strong enough, didn't secure it," UO sophomore Elgin Cook said.
"I didn't come up with the ball," despondent UO senior guard Johnathan Loyd said. "Should have grabbed the rebound, and I didn't. So it's on me."
The Badgers took timeout to settle down, missed again, but got their third offensive rebound of the possession. Brust finally buried a three for a 77-75 lead, and Wisconsin never trailed again.
Oregon's last shot was a three-pointer that Young missed with Wisconsin up 80-77. In the end, his second-half effort to carry the Ducks offensively was no match for the Badgers' second-chance points, or three-point daggers.
"They hit some big shots," Dotson said. "(But) I feel like we messed up on defense a little bit. We had a great first half with knowing the shooter, getting a hand in. The second half, for some reason they were getting open. We just let up, and they hit some big shots."
NOTES: Oregon closes the season with a 24-10 overall record, having won an NCAA Tournament game in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. UO set the program-record for most wins in a three-year and four-year span after its 24-win season ... Joseph Young scored a game-high 29 points, which is the third-highest point total from a Duck in the NCAA Tournament. His 643 points this season ranks fifth-best in program history ... The Ducks outscored Wisconsin 29-13 in bench scoring, eclipsing the 1,000 point mark from their bench this season (1,011) ... Oregon led 49-37 at halftime and once led by as much as 14 before Wisconsin rallied in the second half. Oregon’s 49 first half points are the most Wisconsin has allowed in a first half all season ... UO went 21-of-23 (91%) at the free throw line, led by Calliste’s perfect 11-of-11 mark from the charity stripe.