Make Way For Ducks, Out To Prove They're A Better Seed
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
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MARTIN: And that music normally means we're going to talk sports with NPR's Mike Pesca, but Mike's going to have to wait a few minutes because of a little March Madness. There's a team in the men's tournament making some noise in the far West, and that noise if a full-throated quack. The Oregon Ducks, seeded 12th in their region, now have two double-digit wins over much higher-seeded teams. Their latest win came last night. NPR's Tom Goldman has been at the tournament site in San Jose, California watching Oregon and others and here is his report.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Last night's matchup between the Oregon Ducks and St. Louis Billikens promised to be a good one. We knew Oregon was better than its crummy 12th seed; we knew the Billikens were good - they were one of those sexy picks to go far in the tournament. If they did, I wanted to be ready. So, I did my pregame due diligence. What's a billiken? I was inundated with answers from St. Louis fans: a good luck symbol, a Cabbage Patch-like doll from the early 1900s called a billiken. Personally? I liked Jennifer Sessler's description. What's a billiken?
JENNIFER SESSLER: A Buddha genie elf.
GOLDMAN: Luck would not be a billiken this night, however. The team with the more recognizable mascot, the Ducks, stormed to a 16-point halftime lead. Before taking the court for the second half, they huddled up and reminded each other it wasn't enough.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We cannot just go out here and be, like...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah, (unintelligible).
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Don't be satisfied.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Hey, hey, they're going to be (unintelligible). Believe that.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Like coach said, that's the best team over there. We got to...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Let's go.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We got to be ready. Let's go. Ducks on three. One, two, three, Ducks.
GOLDMAN: The second half was more of the same. Hot shooting - Oregon ended up eight for 11 from three-point range - and defense that held St. Louis to a dreadful 3-for-21 from three-point land. It was a good team beaten on this night by a great team that's been on a roll since winning the Pac-12 conference tournament. Carlos Emory is a senior forward.
CARLOS EMORY: We have a deep bench. We have great freshmen. We got seniors that just want to, like, they have ambitions.
GOLDMAN: Juniors do too. Like 5-foot-8-inch guard Johnathan Loyd, who darts around the court like a water bug. His ambition is fueled, in part, by that insulting twelfth seed.
JOHNATHAN LOYD: We're just trying to go out there and prove a point that, you know, we can play with anybody, you know?
GOLDMAN: We'll know this coming Friday, when the Ducks play overall number one seed Louisville in the Sweet 16.
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GOLDMAN: While the Oregon win was a statement game, the nightcap between Syracuse and California had a distinctly weird dynamic. Syracuse's suffocating zone defense frustrated Cal star guard Allen Crabbe so much his teammates pleaded with him on the court to keep a positive attitude. Head coach Mike Montgomery didn't name names after the game, but he didn't sound pleased.
MIKE MONTGOMERY: We didn't have a whole bunch of people that rose to the occasion, that this was a big game and I'm going to play better than I have.
GOLDMAN: Syracuse won, but the last couple of turnover-filled minutes were more keystone cops than elite college athletes, as noted by Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
JIM BOEHEIM: I don't think I can describe it. It was about as ugly as I think it can get.
GOLDMAN: As the two teams flailed away, an observer next to me noted that gamblers most likely were in knots. Syracuse was a seven-and-a-half-point favorite. They easily had that covered until they started booting the ball away. The final margin of victory was six. As the orange ran off the court, a fan hissed you didn't cover. The splendor and pageantry of March Madness, it was not. Tom Goldman, NPR News, San Jose. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.