In a gritty defensive slog, the #1 Virginia Cavaliers defeated the #12 Oregon Ducks 53-49 in the South Regional Sweet 16 as Tony Bennett and his UVA squad advanced to the Elite 8.

Virginia Basketball Kyle Guy
Virginia guard Kyle Guy (5) drills a three pointer against the Oregon Ducks in a Sweet 16 game in Louisville, Kentucky. (Image: John McDonnell/Washington Post)

The clock stroke Midnight for the Cinderella Ducks. Virginia returns to the Elite 8 for only the seventh time in school history. It also marks the second time since 2016 that head coach Tony Bennett guided the Cavaliers to the Elite 8. Virginia was a #1 seed last year, but they were upset in the Round of 64 by #16 UMBC in an embarrassing loss. They are one victory away from the 2019 Final Four.

With a #12 seed this year, Oregon Ducks won four games in four days to win the Pac-12 Conference Tournament and secure themselves a spot in March Madness. They were one of the hottest teams in the tournament defeating their opponents by a margin of 18 points during their winning streak.

Zone Busters

Oregon’s match-up zone, featuring four players 6-foot-9 or taller, baffled opponents in the Pac-12 tournament and during both of their March Madness victories. Virginia is also known for their staunch defense. Yet, the Cavs struggled to figure out how to effectively shoot against Oregon’s match-up zone that often looks more like man-to-man than a traditional zone.

The Ducks held Virginia to only 53 points, which was one of their lowest scoring totals all season. Virginia missed 24 three-pointers and shot 9-for-33 from beyond the arc for only 27.3 percent. They shot 35.7 percent overall from the floor. Yet despite the low output, Virginia managed to score enough points to secure a victory.

Oregon got off to a slow start. They were down 8 at halftime after Virginia caught a rush and closed out the first half on a mini-run. Oregon clamped down on defense in the second half and clawed their way back into the game. The score was tied with 3:33 remaining before junior guard Ty Jerome drilled a three-point to put the Cavs up three points. The Ducks never truly recovered after that dagger. Jerome finished with a team-high 13 points on 3-for-8 from long range.

“At times we struggled, but we made enough offensive plays and certainly rallied defensively,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett.

On paper, Oregon shot better than Virginia but the Ducks struggled to score points. Payton Pritchard had an off night with only 11 points. He missed nine shots including five treys. He went 1-for-6 from downtown, but he also added 7 rebounds and 4 assists.

“They make a lot of people take bad shots,” said Oregon coach Dana Altman. “But we didn’t handle that very well.”

Louis King was the only Duck who shot well. The freshman forward averages only 13 points per game, but he led the Ducks in scoring with 16 points, including 4-for-8 from three-point range.

Parched Bench

Tony Bennett employed an eight-man rotation for Virginia, but their starting five played the majority of the game. Virginia’s bench accounted for only ten minutes of action. No one scored because none of the reserves attempted a shot.

Dana Altman had an even shorter rotation for the Ducks. Only seven players from Oregon stepped onto the court. Ehab Amin was the only reserve to score a bucket for the Ducks. Amin, arguably the Ducks defensive spark plug, scored 8 points on 3-for-8 shooting before he fouled out late in the game.

Bennett Elite 8 Bound

All four #1 seeds advanced to the Sweet 16 in a chalk-heavy March Madness. Oregon was the Cinderella by default this year and they were the only double-digit seed to advance past the Round of 32.

Virginia became the second #1 seed to advance to the Elite 8. Gonzaga, the top seed from the West Regional, became the first #1 seed to advance to the Elite 8. Gonzaga defeated red-hot FSU by 14 points in the Sweet 16.

Fellow ACC teams, Duke and North Carolina, are the other #1 seeds still remaining in the Sweet 16. They play games on Friday evening to determine the other four members of the Elite 8.

According to the South Point Casino and Sports Book in Las Vegas, Virginia is the new favorite to win March Madness. The Cavs improved to +200 odds, moving slightly ahead of Zion Williamson and Duke at +225.

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