Garza dominates, but Ducks rout Iowa to continue Pac-12's perfect run

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George Bremer, The Herald Bulletin, Anderson, Ind.
·5 min read
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Mar. 22—Oregon knew it couldn't stop Luka Garza on Monday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But the Ducks were determined not to allow the Iowa star to beat them by himself.

Garza scored 36 points — tying the most for the Hawkeyes in an NCAA Tournament game — but Oregon soared to a 95-80 victory to reach the Sweet 16 and keep the Pac-12 undefeated in this year's tournament.

"We knew Garza was gonna get his points," Ducks guard Chris Duarte said. "Our plan was to play defense, get stops and play hard. And that's what we did."

Oregon showed no rust from an unprecedented layoff.

The Ducks were scheduled to open tournament play Saturday against Virginia Commonwealth, but the game was declared a no-contest after a cluster of positive coronavirus tests emerged within the Rams' program. With just two players on the roster who had played in the NCAA Tournament before, Oregon coach Dana Altman scheduled a lively Sunday practice.

He believed his players needed to experience a game-like atmosphere, and it paid off.

The Ducks (21-6) played fast and shared the basketball. Duarte led four players in double figures with 23 points, and Oregon finished with 25 assists on 38 field goals. It led to 55.9% shooting from the field along with 11 3-pointers.

"Our guys were really making plays for each other," Altman said, "and we got a lot of good looks because the ball was moving."

Altman came in with a healthy respect for an Iowa team that averaged 83.8 points this season. He put a big emphasis on the game's first 10 minutes, knowing he could not allow the Hawkeyes (22-9) to get hot and create early separation.

The plan was to do whatever was possible to slow Garza — he scored 22 points in the first half — and limit Iowa's ability to complement his scoring with 3-point shots. The Hawkeyes shot 32% (8-of-25) from the perimeter and were never a serious threat after a 10-0 run gave Oregon a 56-46 halftime lead.

Garza was 14-of-20 overall and 3-of-4 from 3-point range. The rest of the team was 17-of-48 and 5-of-21, respectively.

"They're such a potent offensive team," Altman said. "I just felt like if we got behind, we'd be in trouble. I just didn't want to chase them."

The game started at a break-neck pace with 10 lead changes and six ties in the first 18 minutes before Oregon lapped the competition.

Iowa became the seventh Big Ten team to fall before the Sweet 16, with Michigan and Maryland still scheduled to represent the conference Monday night.

It's been a miserable showing for a league that had nine teams selected for the field and had widely been viewed as the nation's best conference.

It was also a miserable ending for Garza, who became just the third player to win Big Ten player of the year honors in back-to-back seasons and finished seventh in conference history with 2,306 career points.

He shared a long, emotional embrace with coach Fran McCaffery after leaving the court for the final time with about 30 seconds left.

"It's heartbreaking," Garza said. "It's so surreal. It kind of just all hit me at once that this is the last time to put on this jersey, and that hurts a lot. I feel bad that I wasn't able to lead this team to where it needs to go. We did a lot of really, really good things this year, and it just hurts that we weren't able to ... do it when it mattered most. And that's something that's gonna haunt me forever."

Oregon countered the national player of the year candidate with a trio of red-hot guards.

Duarte was 9-of-12 from the floor and added seven assists to his scoring exploits. L.J. Figueroa keyed the late first-half surge and finished with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting overall and 5-of-9 shooting from 3-point range while pulling down a team-high seven rebounds. And Will Richardson scored 19 points while shooting 7-of-10 overall and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc and grabbing six rebounds.

"We felt like our advantage was on the perimeter," Altman said. "We felt like our advantage was driving the ball at them and making plays."

Eugene Omoruyi was the fourth Duck in double figures, finishing with 17 points and six rebounds while often drawing the defensive assignment against Garza.

In many ways, Oregon was just happy to be on the court. The Ducks' regular-season opener was delayed until December because of difficulty in finding healthy opponents, and the program suffered through two nine-day COVID-19 pauses in January.

So the first-round cancellation against VCU was in keeping with a season-long theme.

Duarte said the Ducks are just grateful for the opportunity to play, and they're happy to continue showing the nation the Pac-12 might have been severely under rated.

"I feel like we don't get the respect we deserve," Duarte said. "(The tournament showing) looks good on our conference. It tells you guys that we have talent, and we are good."