LOUISVILLE — Louis King’s 3-pointer swished through the net to break Oregon’s second-half stalemate with Virginia, and on the Oregon sideline, teammate Ehab Amin put his hands to his head in disbelief.
Underdog Oregon had the lead with 5:33 to go in Thursday’s Sweet 16 game at the KFC Yum Center, and Ducks assistant Tony Stubblefield crouched with both arms outstretched as if to keep the rest of the bench from leaping onto the court in excitement.
But 12-seed Oregon’s season ended at the hands of Virginia’s suffocating defense, and the No. 1 seed Cavaliers claimed a 53-49 win to advance to their first Elite Eight since 2016.
The accomplishment comes with ghosts of its own. The Cavaliers were also a No. 1 seed that season when they coughed up a 15-point lead in a loss to Syracuse in the Midwest regional final.
More: Opinion: This wasn’t supposed to happen for Purdue, and that makes NCAA Elite Eight so much sweeter
More: I met the man with perfect NCAA tournament bracket. Then watched it fall apart
Ty Jerome scored 13 points to lead Virginia to a school-record 32nd win on the season. King’s 16 points led Oregon, which before Thursday had not lost since Feb. 23..
An hour after Purdue pushed past Tennessee in overtime of a high-scoring footrace,the night’s finale between defensive juggernauts Virginia and Oregon seemed to almost unfold in slow motion.
The Cavaliers and Ducks combined to shoot 38 percent from the field in the first half, including 9 of 28 from 3-point range.
Oregon scored the first basket before Virginia went on a 7-0 tear. Scoring then stalled for three minutes as the teams collectively missed nine field goals in a row — the Ducks struggling to drive to the rim and the Cavs unable to make 3-pointers fall.
Eight minutes into the game, the score was 7-7.
Virginia’s pack-line defense intercepted passes in the paint and starved Oregon of offensive rebounds. On the other end of the floor, Oregon’s lengthy matchup zone closed out on shooters and funneled Virginia to the perimeter.
Two big 3-pointers from Ehab Amin sparked a Ducks run to grab a 16-10 lead, but then Cavaliers duo Mamadi Diakite and Kihei Clark orchestrated a late push.
The Cavaliers were 3 of 15 from beyond the arc until Ty Jerome his a 3-pointer to put Virginia up 21-18 with 3:31 left. Virginia made five of its last seven shots en route to a 30-22 halftime lead.
A couple costly Virginia turnovers saw Oregon open the second half on a 12-5 run, cutting the deficit to 35-34 before Amin and Diakite were each assessed a technical foul for going toe-to-toe under the basket.
The game was tied 42-42 with seven minutes to go. King’s fourth 3-pointer of the night briefly put Oregon up 45-42 before Virginia answered with two of their own.
Four Oregon turnovers in a five-minute span and an inability to score lent permanence to the Virginia lead, and the Cavaliers eventually sealed their victory at the free-throw line despite shooting 27 percent from 3-point range.