In the final 60 seconds or so Saturday night, when it became obvious Kansas wasn’t coming back to beat Oregon, Bill Self glanced into the pro-KU crowd at the Sprint Center.
I’m not sure who or what the Kansas coach was looking for, but he didn’t look for long. He then peered at the scoreboard, where the numbers were unfavorable. He pursed his lips, folded his arms and looked to be in some pain as his ninth time coaching in an NCAA Tournament Elite Eight game was about to result in a seventh loss.
Oregon beat Kansas, Kansas didn’t lose to Oregon.
The score was 74-60. After cutting what had been an 18-point Oregon lead to 66-60 with 2:53 left, Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey hit a three-pointer to jolt the game back the Ducks’ way.
More about Dorsey in a bit because it’s rare to see a player make so many dramatic, problematic, acrobatic shots.
Kansas would have taken just making a few shots, period.
Two nights after pounding Purdue by 32 points and scoring whenever they wanted, the Jayhawks shot 35 percent against Oregon. They made 5 of 25 three-point attempts. KU was outrebounded, outmanned and out-everythinged.
“The one thing that did happen today — and it’s hard to admit — the best team did win,” Self said. “I don’t think we put our best foot forward like we have very consistently all season long.”
The game got out of whack early, when KU freshman Josh Jackson was called for two fouls in the first 2:43. Neither Jackson nor junior guard Devonté Graham scored in the first half, but senior guard Frank Mason had 15 consecutive KU points during one stretch to keep the Jayhawks breathing.
Oregon’s lead, in fact, was just 36-33 with 1:27 left.
After a basket by Dylan Ennis made it 38-33, Dorsey went to work.
His first unconventional three-point make first bounced high off the rim. High enough, it seemed, that someone in the catwalk high above the Sprint Center floor could have grabbed the ball. Instead, Dorsey’s shot bounced on the rim again, hit the backboard, and finally nestled in the net.
Dorsey’s trick shot display wasn’t finished.
After a sloppy Kansas turnover, Dorsey banked in a three-pointer from the top of the key at the first-half buzzer. Teammate Payton Pritchard started laughing — it seemed appropriate — as Dorsey pounded his chest after giving the Ducks an 11-point lead.
Kansas told itself it wasn’t. The pro-KU crowd at the Sprint Center convinced itself during the break that the comeback-crazy Jayhawks would find another miracle.
Instead, it was more of the same early in the second half. Oregon made shots and built its lead to 55-37. Kansas somehow cut the Ducks’ lead to six, but mostly because Oregon became offensively conservative.
When the Ducks pushed, Kansas fell back. It was that way all night.
“There was no doubt,” Oregon junior guard Dillon Brooks, who made his share of clutch shots, said. “We were locked in and focused the entire time. We were ready to succeed.”
Oregon was the aggressor, which is made easier when you have an artist like Jordan Bell swatting away shots. Bell makes rims feel very protected and his eight blocks Saturday were as important as any other number on the final stats sheet.
“He controlled and anchored their defense very well and I certainly understand why he was the player of the year in the Pac-12,” Self said.
Still, Self lamented that the Jayhawks didn’t draw more fouls with their drives to the basket, although KU did shoot 17 free throws to Oregon’s seven.
Oh, yes, there was another circus three-pointer by Dorsey. There were so many, it’s easy to forget one.
With time on the shot clock ticking toward nothing, Dorsey lined up a shot from several feet behind the arc. And he made it, giving Oregon a 64-51 lead with just more than seven minutes left.
The Ducks never relented. They played Kansas in the most hostile environment not named Allen Fieldhouse and took the game to the Jayhawks. It was impressive.
KU’s fans, who outnumbered Oregon’s something like 100 to 1, screamed and yelled and prodded and begged. But there was nothing there for the Jayhawks. They couldn’t get on a roll, couldn’t make shots. Looking at the stats — Oregon shot 51 percent, made 11 of 25 three-pointers and outrebounced KU by four — it’s surprising the Jayhawks hung around as long as they did.
“We played kind of tight,” said KU’s Graham, who was 0 for 7 overall and missed all six of his three-pointers. That, folks, screams tight.
Even Mason cooled, scoring only four points in the second half and being blanked over the final 13 minutes.
He was his stoic self, though, as the game slipped away. And Mason answered questions calmly after it was over, although with few words.
This is another mighty NCAA Tournament disappointment for the Jayhawks, especially considering they were basically playing at home in the regional.
Self is now 2-7 in Elite Eight games, 2-5 at Kansas. Only Adolph Rupp, with eight, has lost more.
Rupp was one of the game’s greatest coaches and Self is, too. But he has to check off another season without a Final Four. And the seasons don’t last forever.