Jordan Bell sat in the locker room, some 30 minutes after his Oregon Ducks defeated Michigan 69-68 on Thursday to reach the Elite Eight for the second year in a row.
The time to field media questions was almost up, the Sprint Center’s locker room doors about to shut. He wasn’t dwelling on his 16-point, 13-rebound performance. Bell was locked in on the Kansas-Purdue game playing on a television behind a table bearing the team’s postgame meal, scouting Oregon’s next opponent — which turned out to be the Jayhawks after their 98-66 victory. Oregon and Kansas will play at 7:49 p.m. Saturday.
“This game’s coming so quick, so just watch this game right here, focus on people’s tendencies, flaws,” said Bell, watching as Kansas freshman Josh Jackson took the ball to the rim about 8 minutes into the game. “Don’t leave him open — that’s a dunk! Learn not to do stuff like that.”
Hours earlier, Bell had stepped onto the court with a mission to grab as many boards as he could and spark Oregon’s offense. He was so successful with the former task that Michigan could only get in the paint for 14 attempts in the first half, forcing the Wolverines to let loose beyond the arc to little success (5 for 14 on three-point attempts).
“It’s difficult in that defense to (go inside more),” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Jordan Bell is a great defensive player. We tried to do that a little earlier with (Moritz Wagner, who was 2 for 8 shooting in the first half). Didn’t work out so well.”
Bell was successful enough with the latter task that he had nine defensive rebounds in the game, off which the Ducks scored 11 points. Six of those came on a pair of three-pointers from Dillon Brooks, whose final attempt gave Oregon a 50-44 lead with just over 13 minutes remaining in the game.
But that lead, the largest both teams ever had in the game, didn’t hold. The first half featured eight ties and eight lead changes, and by the final buzzer the lead had changed hands eight more times, including four times in the final 4 minutes.
“We got down four there and the guys could have given into it,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “They didn’t. They fought their way back. Shows you what kind of competitive spirit they’ve got.”
Oregon, which led most of the second half, fell behind 68-65 with 2 minutes remaining. Bell hit a putback to cut the deficit to one, right after saving Dylan Ennis’ errant free throw attempt. Oregon was only 9 for 16 on free throws.
After a miss by Michigan’s Derrick Walton, the Ducks took the lead on Tyler Dorsey’s maneuver at the basket with 1:08 remaining.
Oregon had a chance to pad its lead with 14.9 seconds remaining but Ennis missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Bell wasn’t there this time. Michigan got the rebound, and after an Oregon foul with 9.4 seconds remaining — the Wolverines weren’t in the bonus — the final play came down to Walton, the point guard who finished with 20 points. The shot fell short and Bell secured the rebound as time expired.
Dorsey got the hot hand for Oregon. He’d already been on fire, entering the game with five straight games of 20 or more points. He finished the first half with 12 points, including three-pointers on successive possessions, and added eight more in the second half to keep his streak going.
Zak Irvin had 19 points, 14 of them in the second half, and eight rebounds for Michigan. The Wolverines were sloppy in the first half, committing seven turnovers. They’d entered the game leading the nation in fewest turnovers per game at 9.2.
Oregon, which won the first NCAA championship in 1939, hasn’t played in a Final Four since. The Ducks are one victory away.
“I’m getting old and you don’t know how many years you have left and you have to be lucky,” said Altman,58. “That shot could have went in it could have been John Beilein and the Michigan players up here. That’s how tight that game was and it could have went either way. … We’ve just been really fortunate. We’ve got good players and guys that are unselfish.”
The Star’s Blair Kerkhoff contributed to this report.