Pac-12 foes USC, Oregon battle for spot in Elite Eight

Charlotte Hornets draft Evan Mobley
Mar 22, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Southern California Trojans forward Evan Mobley (4) handles the ball while Kansas Jayhawks guard Ochai Agbaji (30) defends during the first half in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Emblematic of the Pac-12’s surprising success in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, sixth-seeded Southern California and No. 7 seed Oregon will meet in a Sweet 16 game in the West Region on Saturday night in Indianapolis.

The teams met just once in the regular season — another game didn’t get played due to COVID-19 issues within the Ducks program — with the Trojans dominating 72-58 on Feb. 22 in Los Angeles. That was Oregon’s only loss in its final 11 regular-season games.

Read More: RECAP: USC hands Kansas worst-ever NCAA tourney defeat

“Oregon, we have a lot of respect for that team,” said USC coach Andy Enfield, whose team improved to 24-7 with an 85-51 thrashing of third-seeded Kansas on Monday night.

“Our whole league, we’ve been trying to tell you guys in the media for the last couple years the Pac-12 is really good. Last year was exceptional. This year the same. Last year we had 10 NBA draft picks. This year our teams are very, very good.

“I think you’ve seen that. To play Oregon in the Sweet 16, honestly I wish we were playing a team from another conference. I’m not sure how we’re meeting them in the Sweet 16. Dana Altman and his staff do a tremendous job.”

Oregon (21-6) advanced past the first round when VCU dropped out due to COVID-19 positive tests, and then put on an athletic display to dazzle second-seeded Iowa 95-80.

Four players scored at least 23 points, led by Chris Duarte’s 23, and the Ducks assisted on 25 of 38 baskets while shooting 55.9 percent.

The Ducks found their stride late in the season once they moved past scheduling pauses and other health issues. Duarte leads the way with 17.0 points per game, followed by Rutgers transfer Eugene Omoruyi (16.7).

“Gene is our most physical player,” Altman said after the Iowa game. “He battled his tail off in there, giving up five, six inches and 20-something pounds. He battled. Eugene has done such a tremendous job of battling every night and giving us that physicality; we’d be in trouble if we didn’t have Eugene.”

Omoruyi, at 6-foot-6, is part of a wave of similarly sized starters who usually more than hold their own on the glass — like against Iowa — due to their athleticism. USC, however, is a different beast as one of the longest teams in the country, led by 7-foot freshman Evan Mobley, the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

The Trojans had a 39-25 rebounding edge in the first meeting against Oregon.

Read More: NCAA Tournament roundup: No. 7 Oregon KOs No. 2 Iowa

Mobley had 10 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in Monday night’s triumph over Kansas, while his 6-10 brother, Isaiah Mobley, poured in 17 points while hitting 4 of 5 shots from 3-point range.

“Evan gets all the focus of the opposing defenses. He’s so hard to guard because he can go inside, outside, he can put the ball on the floor,” Enfield said. “But Isaiah is equally as skilled. He just doesn’t have the length and explosiveness as his brother.”

USC enters with a plus-7.2 rebounding advantage and uses its length around the rim to hold teams to 38.7 percent shooting for the season. The Trojans limited NCAA Tournament foes Drake and Kansas to a combined 29.2 percent (38 of 130) from the field.

USC is playing in its first Sweet 16 since 2007. Oregon has now reached the regional semifinals in four of the past five tournaments.

–Field Level Media