With a bid to the Elite Eight on the line, No. 1 seed Virginia stepped up to the challenge and defeated No. 12 seed Oregon, 53-49. The Cavaliers (32-3, 16-2 ACC) emerged from the Sweet Sixteen victorious for the second time under Coach Tony Bennett after getting a gritty four-point win over the Ducks (25-13, 10-8 P12) late Thursday night.
Virginia entered the game after beating No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb and No. 9 seed Oklahoma in the first two rounds of the tournament. Meanwhile, the Ducks came to Louisville, Ky., after two comfortable wins, including a big upset over No. 5 seed Wisconsin.
Starting freshman guard Kihei Clark, sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter, junior guard Ty Jerome, junior guard Kyle Guy and junior forward Mamadi Diakite, the Cavaliers got off to an early 7-3 lead in the first five minutes of play. They locked in on defense to force the Ducks to two early turnovers and a scoring drought of more than five minutes.
However, as Oregon started to settle in offensively and Virginia struggled to convert open shots, the Cavaliers started to fall behind. The Ducks held on to a slight lead for just under four minutes before a 10-0 run put the Cavaliers back in front, 23-18.
Virginia finished the first half shooting a low 36.4 percent on field goals and 27.8 from beyond the arc. Leading the Cavaliers in scoring was Jerome, who put up eight points on 50 percent field goal shooting. Diakite was right behind him with seven points, while Clark had six points off of two three-pointers. Guy, a two-time All-ACC First Team Selection, continued to struggle to find his offensive rhythm in the NCAA Tournament, going 0-5 on three-point attempts.
Virginia out-rebounded the Ducks 20-15 — impressive given the height of the Ducks — and had three turnovers compared to Oregon’s six. However, the Ducks posted stronger shooting numbers, going 42.9 percent on field goals and 40 percent on threes. They were led by senior guard Ehab Amin, who had a team-high eight first-half points off the bench.
Emerging from the locker room ahead 30-22, Virginia held on to its lead as Oregon tried to chip away at it in the opening minutes of the second-half. A big three from Guy with 12:23 to play helped put some distance between the Cavaliers and the Ducks, who had gotten within one point of Virginia prior to Guy’s triple.
However, with just over eight minutes to play, the Cavaliers couldn’t continue to thwart the Ducks’ offensive pressure and Oregon finally took over the lead for the first time since the first half, going up 42-40.
But Virginia proved its mettle down the stretch.
When Jerome made his third three of the night with 3:34 to play to put Virginia back on top, the Cavaliers maintained their lead for the rest of the night, winning 53-49.
The Cavaliers ended the night with 35.7 percent shooting overall and 27.3 percent shooting from three, along with 11 offensive rebounds. Jerome finished as the leading scorer for Virginia, dropping 13 points to go along with six assists.
Clark also had an impressive game, scoring 12 points and getting six assists, both of which tie career-highs. He made a crucial three-pointer to tie the game at 45-45 before Jerome made a three-pointer to put Virginia ahead, and he played great defense on junior guard Payton Pritchard all night, holding one of the Ducks’ leading scorers to just 11 points on 3-12 shooting.
Hunter and Guy finished in double figures as well with 11 points and 10 points, respectively, while Diakite had seven points and a team-high 11 rebounds.
The Cavaliers will now gear up to play No. seed 3 Purdue — who just knocked off No. 2 seed Tennessee — in the South Regional Final Saturday. The game is scheduled for 8:49 p.m.