How Iowa basketball's defense got exposed by Oregon in an NCAA Tournament blowout

Mike Carmin
Hawk Central

INDIANAPOLIS — Dana Altman kept coming back to one number.

Twenty-five. As in assists.

The ball movement, the crisp execution and quickness on the perimeter snowballed into a lopsided defeat for West Region No. 2 seed Iowa on Monday afternoon in the NCAA tournament’s second round at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

No. 7 seed Oregon’s 95-80 victory prevented the favored Hawkeyes from reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999. The Ducks’ offense created and gained momentum throughout the game as four players reach double figures, accounting for 80 points.

“The ball movement was the key to our offense,” said Altman, who has led Oregon to the Sweet 16 in four of the last five tournaments. “I love seeing 25 assists. I thought our guys were ready to shoot it, but we had some good looks because the ball was moving pretty good.”  

The Ducks couldn’t match up with Iowa big man Luka Garza, who finished with 36 points, inside but had the advantage on the perimeter. Altman’s team was quicker, pushed the ball in transition and pounded the ball in the paint totaling 46 points.

The home of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers quickly became Oregon’s personal playground by hitting 11 3-pointers and collecting 10 dunks.

“We did a good job of moving the ball and finding our teammates and that worked out well,” said Chris Duarte, who scored 23 points, including 14 in the final 12:44 of the first half as the Ducks led 56-46. “We knew we are quicker than them. We said we had to take advantage of that, and we did.”

The 25 assists are a season high for the Ducks, who shot 55.9% from the field. Duarte had a career-high seven assists to go along with his 9 of 12 shooting. Will Richardson and LJ Figueroa combined to hit eight 3-pointers.

Monday was Oregon’s first game in 10 days since its first-round matchup against VCU was declared a no-contest due to COVID-19 protocols in the Rams’ program.

“We didn’t play well in Las Vegas,” Duarte said, referring to the Pac-12 tournament. “The plan was to play hard and try to get as far as we can. We tried to leave it all out there.”

Altman was concerned about the start, worried about the long layoff and how it would impact his group. The veteran coach put his team through a scrimmage situation Saturday night, looking for his players to experience game action.

But there was nothing to worry about, at least offensively. His team was sharp from the opening tip and exploited the questionable Iowa defense on nearly every possession and limited the Hawkeyes’ 3-point shooting.

And the Ducks needed to be sharp. For the first 16 minutes, Iowa and Oregon were trading baskets until an 18-4 run in the final 4:18 pushed Oregon into the locker room with a comfortable advantage.

Altman even took a gamble, leaving Duarte, Figueroa and Eugene Omoruyi on the floor with two fouls. But Figueroa — who finished with 21 points — started the stretch with a 3-pointer, one of three in the final four minutes, as the Ducks seized control.

“We can’t get behind these guys. We can’t be chasing. We’re going to have to score with them,” Altman said. “I trust you here. You can’t have stupid fouls -you’ve got pull back. No stupid reaches. Just smart basketball here.”