Oregon (33-5) is back in the Final Four for the first time since 1939, which wouldn’t have been surprising if Chris Boucher hadn’t torn his ACL in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament.
But he did – which makes Oregon’s run all the more impressive.
“Because of our experience, I felt . . . throughout year that this group could do something special,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “(The Boucher injury) kind of put a damper on everything. I didn’t know how our team would respond.”
Oregon found out the day of the Pac-12 championship that Boucher was out for the season.
“Our team was stunned,” Altman said. “Our coaching staff was stunned. It took awhile to recover from that. I didn’t know how we’d respond.”
The Ducks played Arizona tough in the Pac-12 final, ultimately losing 83-80, but have since won four straight games.
“We took on Iona and played okay there, but Rhode Island and Michigan came down to the last possession,” Altman said. “We were fortunate that we were able to win both of those.”
Then along came Kansas. The No. 1 Jayhawks (31-5) were heavy favorites to reach their first Final Four since 2012, but it didn’t happen. Oregon stunned Kansas, 74-60, in front of a raucous, Rock Chalk crowd Saturday.
“You know how tough Kansas is in Kansas City,” Altman said. “It was a big obstacle, and our guys responded. I thought we had a special team all year. We fought through injuries. Dillon Brooks wasn’t able to start the year because of a foot injury, and now Chris at the end here. But our guys have fought through it. Hopefully now we can fight through it another weekend.”
Oregon will face No. 1 North Carolina (31-7) in the Final Four in Glendale this Saturday at 8:49 p.m. ET.
The Tar Heels have been to 20 Final Fours since 1946, including five during the Roy Williams era.
“This is a new experience for us,” Altman said. “Obviously we’re playing a team that went to the finals last year, and Coach Williams has had a number of teams in the Final Four, so they’re vets at this. Our coaching staff, our team, this is a new experience. We’re going to figure it all out, handle that, hopefully keep it in the right perspective and be ready to play Saturday night. But they are an outstanding team on the boards. They’re outstanding in transition. We’re going to have to bring our A-game. We’re going to have to play awfully well, (especially) with their experience level. You combine all those things, it’s going to be an awfully difficult game for us, but our guys like the challenge. We knew the deck was stacked against us against Kansas, another experienced team, Frank Mason a player of the year (candidate), a team that’s been there, done that, and playing them in Kansas City. So we knew that we had an obstacle there, and we overcame that. We know Saturday night, it’s going to be an awfully difficult game for us. But we look forward to the challenge.”