KANSAS CITY — Amid thousands of blank stares, there was one villainous smile. That smile, and a few similar ones, told of a stunning result Saturday night that is both historic and calamitous, memorable and forgettable, euphoric and devastating.
The smile came from Oregon’s Dillon Brooks as he strutted back down the Sprint Center floor. Then he looked up to the crowd and saw those stares. As he did, he might as well have been back-pedaling to Phoenix.
A year after falling short at this very stage, Brooks and Tyler Dorsey led No. 3 seed Oregon to a shocking upset of top-seeded Kansas, 74-60 in a de facto road game. They also led Oregon to its first Final Four since 1939.
As the Ducks celebrated, the Jayhawks and their thunderously loud fans were left to ponder yet another tournament failure, one that local reporters have dubbed a disaster if it were to happen, one that nobody saw coming after Kansas romped to the Elite Eight with an average margin of victory of 30.
But it was clear from the opening minutes that a fourth win wouldn’t be as easy. Oregon played stoically and passionately, but under control. As it continued to do so, noise turned to silence. Excitement turned to exasperation. Kansas’ seemingly assured place in the Final Four turned into a dream dashed. What began as a raucous crowd at Allen Fieldhouse East turned to a nervous crowd, and then a frantically concerned one, and finally a dejected one.
Every single Kansas basket brought thousands of blue- and red-clad Jayhawks fans to their feet, but over the course of 40 minutes, they did a lot of sinking back into their seats, too. Tyler Dorsey, Dylan Ennis and Dillon Brooks all hit early 3s, and reveled in the silencing of the crowd.
Multiple Ducks players said Friday that they enjoy playing — or, more specifically, winning — on the road more than they do at home, and their mentalities throughout the first half exemplified that. Whereas Kansas played tight, as they admittedly had in previous first halves in the tournament, Oregon played freely, unfazed and uninhibited by the at times rapturous noise.
The first big moment of the game came less than three minutes in. Moments after picking up an early foul, Josh Jackson was tagged with a controversial second for a hand check. He stalked to the bench, ripping his jersey out of his shorts as he did. He would sit for nearly nine minutes, and was ineffective when he returned
Oregon led 36-28 at the three-minute mark of the first half, and in fact, if it weren’t for Frank Mason, the lead would have been larger. Mason had 14, half of his team’s points, and got many of them after beating his man off the dribble. He got 15, 16 and 17 on a 3-pointer with 2:22 remaining to cut the lead to five. He scored 15 straight points for Kansas to keep them in the game.
No other Jayhawk could get going, though. Oregon’s 1-2-2 halfcourt trap, which fell back into both a matchup zone and a man-to-man, slowed Kansas’ offense. Neither Jackson nor Devonte’ Graham scored a single point.
Oregon’s Jordan Bell was a menace within a 10-foot radius of the rim all game. He erased four Jayhawks shots at the rim, and grabbed eight boards. His horizontal and vertical athleticism was spectacular.
It was Dorsey, though, who had the single biggest minute of the half. And it was the final minute. With Oregon’s lead at five, the Ducks decided to go two-for-one. Dorsey pulled up for a 2, and his shot rattled off rim, off glass, and in. After a Kansas turnover on the other end, he had ample time to rise up again, and this time his shot went straight off the glass and in. Oregon raced off the court in glee, and with a 44-33 lead.
After the break, it was Brooks’ turn to get going. he elevated for two 3s, and strutted back down the court, smiling, relishing his role as public enemy No. 1. Bell also rejected two early shots to keep Kansas’ offense quiet, and Oregon extended its lead to 16.
Kansas tried to speed its way back into the game by amplifying its already breakneck pace, but Oregon, unlike Purdue on Thursday, was similarly comfortable with the pace. The Ducks dove to the floor for loose balls and ran their own fast breaks. They turned Kansas’ on-ball pressure against it by staying calm and passing out of traps to score.
Kansas appeared to feel the mounting pressure as Oregon’s double-digit lead held deeper and deeper into the half. Graham air-balled a six-footer. Kansas’ urgency didn’t yield more fluid play; it yielded the opposite.
As the second half wore on, Oregon’s energy, and as a result its performance, started to wane. Its offense became stagnant. Kansas’ defense went into desperation mode, and Oregon’s offense shut off.
With the lead cut to 10, Dorsey hit one massive three, his fifth of the game, and brought a finger to his lips as he jogged back down the court.
But Kansas kept coming. The Jayhawks got to within nine, and Svi Mykhailiuk hit a cold-blooded 3 from the left corner to cut the lead to six with 2:49 remaining. “Let’s go Jayhawks!” chants filled the arena.
On the very next possession, Oregon again got no movement and no penetration, but Dorsey flicked a shot at the rim as the shot clock expired. The rebound bounced into the arms of an Oregon player, and seconds later, Dorsey crossed over, rose, and drilled a 3. On Oregon’s next possession, Bell got not one but two offensive rebounds, and his goaltended layup pushed the lead back to 11.
Oregon held on for the victory, and will advance to the Final Four to play the winner of Sunday’s showdown between North Carolina and Kentucky.