Jordan Bell spent about 15 seconds crouched down on the floor, head in his hands and fingers raking over his hair.
It was Saturday night in Kansas City and arguably the biggest game the 6-foot-9 junior from Oregon had ever played in his career. His No. 3-seeded Ducks had just upset top-seeded Kansas 74-60 in the Midwest Regional to secure the program’s first trip back to the Final Four since the Ducks won the first NCAA Championship in 1939.
And Bell, who’d just turned in one of his best performances of the season after putting up 16 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in a Sweet Sixteen victory over Michigan, was clutch for Oregon once again. He was just shy of a triple-double, scoring 11 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking eight shots against Kansas.
“He controlled and anchored their defense very well, and I certainly understand why he was Player of the Year in the Pac-12,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
His athleticism was crucial to Oregon’s success. If he hadn’t slammed a dunk with just under 11 minutes remaining in the first half and then run across the court to block Svi Mykhailuik’s attempt at a layup 6 seconds later, the Jayhawks could have kept their momentum. They’d been on a 7-2 run until Bell’s block, and Oregon only led 14-12 with 10:46 to go in the first half.
And with that grasp on KU’s ability to make special plays, Bell went into the Elite Eight prepared to protect the rim with his life.
“I don’t think I stopped them from being aggressive and driving,” Bell said. “I just think I put it in their mind that when they come into the paint it’s somebody like me inside and I think that helped us out a lot.”
It helped the Ducks out so much that Josh Jackson, who sat out a good part of the first half after drawing a pair of early fouls, didn’t score until 11:26 remained in the game.
Bell also denied Kansas’ Landen Lucas on what should have been an easy layup. KU then played hot potato with the ball until Kansas’ Frank Mason, trying to grab an offensive board, tipped the ball into the hands of Oregon sixth-year senior Dylan Ennis. Oregon never converted on the possession, but the Ducks already led by 13.
With just more than two minutes remaining in the game, Tyler Dorsey attempted a three-pointer to keep the Ducks from avoiding a shot clock violation — and Bell was there for the ricochet. Dorsey, who was 6 for 10 on three-point plays, then sunk a triple with 1:51 remaining to pad Oregon’s lead to nine points.
Bell had kept KU under wraps all game. In the first half alone he made four blocks and corralled five defensive rebounds.
After beating Michigan, Ennis had promised to buy Bell dinner for helping him out with a putback that kept Oregon in the game. Bell joked with him, saying the super-senior owed him a car for that save.
He won’t be a getting a car.
“I don’t got that much money,” Ennis said Saturday. “Maybe in a year or two.”
But minutes after the final buzzer, Bell, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the regional, did get to climb a ladder to the basket on Oregon’s side of the court, grab a pair of scissors and cut down the net.
The Star’s Terez Paylor contributed to this report.