In the closing seconds, chants of “UVA” echoed throughout KFC Yum! Center as the Cavaliers (32-3) celebrated advancing to the regional finals for the first time since 2016. Virginia faces No. 3 seed Purdue in Saturday’s South Region final for a berth in the Final Four.
“Offense can come and go, and [the Ducks are] really good defensively, and we stepped up defensively,” Cavaliers Coach Tony Bennett said. “So you just hang on. You hang your hat on that defense, and hopefully you get enough offense. Ugly is in the eye of the beholder.”
Jerome led Virginia with 13 points, six assists and six rebounds on a night when the Cavaliers shot 36 percent.
Junior guard Kyle Guy continued a shooting slump by going 4 of 15, and De’Andre Hunter shot 4 of 13. Kihei Clark’s 4-for-9 showing from the field yielded the top shooting percentage for Virginia.
Louis King led Oregon (25-13) with 16 points, making 4 of 8 from beyond the arc.
The Ducks scored their second fewest points this season, missing five shots and committing two turnovers in the closing stretch when Virginia turned up the defensive pressure.
“I did a really poor job,” Ducks Coach Dana Altman said. “We’ve got to get better possessions than that. That’s my job. We got rushed a little bit there, and just we had poor possessions.”
The game was tied at 42 with 5:44 left in the second half when King made a three-pointer, his third in a row, for Oregon before Clark swished a shot from beyond the arc.
Then on the Ducks’ ensuing possession, Jerome got his hand on the ball guarding Will Richardson and came up with a steal. After Bennett called timeout with 4:42 to play, Mamadi Diakite stole the ball, leading to Jerome’s deep three-pointer that brought much of the announced crowd of 19,831 to their feet.
“Honestly, I’m thinking about the one I missed after that,” Jerome said. “That would have really sealed the game. I want that one back. But just we were starting to do a better job of moving, and Kihei found me in the right spot, and I think Dre or Mamadi set a great screen.”
Several times in the second half Virginia threatened to pull away only to have the Ducks stay within reach.
The lead had grown to 35-27 on Guy’s three-pointer and Hunter’s layup, but Oregon responded with seven in a row. Paul White, who began his career at Georgetown, had five of those points, including a three-pointer from the right corner after which he turned around and acknowledged Ducks supporters.
The Cavaliers grew the lead back to six, 40-34, on Guy’s three-pointer and Clark’s floater, but again Oregon had an answer. This time Payton Pritchard scored on a driving layup, and King sank consecutive three-pointers to give the Ducks the lead, 42-40, with 8:32 left in regulation.
The run produced Oregon’s first lead since early in the first half.
“For sure, I mean, we’re disappointed,” Prichard said. “We were right there down to the wire. We’re going to look back at this, and we’re going to be — it’s going to be frustrating for awhile now.”
Tensions escalated with 13:54 to play in the second half on a held ball between Diakite and the Ducks’ Ehab Amin.
The possession arrow favored the Cavaliers, but after the whistle, the two stared one another down before Amin crumpled to the floor, resulting initially in a technical assessed to Diakite.
After officials reviewed the play, however, they also charged Amin with a technical foul.
“I think we played great,” Hunter said of the closing defensive stand. “We were communicating. We were scrambling, keeping guys in front, rebounding. We were doing all the things we practice every day. I mean, I think those last five minutes just show how great we can be.”
The Cavaliers arrived in an arena familiar to them with a mixture of relief and confidence after advancing out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
The exhaling came when they beat No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb, 71-56, in the round of 64, vanquishing, at least in part, the haunting memory of becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 in NCAA tournament history last season. Then the swagger re-emerged in a 63-51 win against No. 9 seed Oklahoma on Sunday.
Diakite was revelation in Virginia’s first two games in the NCAA tournament, combining to score 31 points and getting his first start this season against the Sooners.
Bennett kept Diakite in the starting lineup in the regional semifinals, and the redshirt junior forward-center was active early in the first half, particularly in attacking for offense rebounds when the Cavaliers were struggling to make shots, some uncontested.
Diakite’s presence inside also compelled Oregon’s interior players to reconsider taking shots close the basket, playing right into the hands of the Cavaliers’ pack-line defense.
“I was more aggressive on the boards today,” said Diakite, who had a game-high 11 rebounds. “I was being very aggressive and putting a lot of pressure on them. Defensively, I wasn’t allowing them to get rebounds over me.”
Oregon, making its third trip the regional semifinals under Altman, had leaned on some rugged defense of its own to become the highest seed playing in the round of 16.
Only one Ducks opponent in the last 10 games has scored more than 54 points, including a 68-48 upset of Washington in the Pac-12 tournament final. The Huskies were the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.
Combining some zone and man-to-man principles, the Ducks flustered Guy in the first half. The junior who’s typically efficient from three-point range missed all four of his attempts from beyond the arc in the first half.
Dating from the end of the Gardner-Webb win to the Cavaliers’ 30-22 halftime lead against Oregon, Guy went 0 for 17 from three-point range. He came into the regional semifinals shooting 43.9 percent from three-point range and had made a school-record 11 in a row during the regular season.
He missed all 10 of his three-point attempts in the round of 32.
“We’re in March, and it’s 40-minute territory, as coach always tells us,” Guy said. “So it helps that we try to stay calm under pressure and that we try to execute and get stops defensively, no mater what the score is or how hectic the game is going.
“That will always be to our advantage, and we’re going to try to continue to bring that to every game.”