The Ducks just bided their time and made a huge statement with their play Thursday, beating Oklahoma State 68-55 in a second-round game at HP Pavilion.
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Freshman guard Damyean Dotson led Oregon with 17 points, and senior forward Arsalan Kazemi had a double-double with 17 rebounds and 11 points. Freshman starting point guard Dominic Artis scored 13 points, while Carlos Emory came off the bench for 12 points and eight rebounds for the Ducks.
"We weren't worried about it," Dotson said of the 12 seed. "We just knew we had to come out and play hard. It's more of a survive-and-advance and just win games. No matter whatever your seed is, you've got to play your hardest.
"We just believed. We know we're a good team, and we just have to win games. Survive and advance. Just play hard every game and stay aggressive, all the time."
Oregon (27-8) will face fourth-seeded St. Louis, a 64-44 winner over New Mexico State, in a Round of 32 game Saturday in the Midwest region with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
The Ducks won the Pac-12 Tournament, finished tied for second during the regular season at 12-6, went 2-0 against regular-season champ UCLA and 1-0 against Arizona. That added up to a No. 12 seed when the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee revealed this year's tournament field.
Thursday's game between the No. 17 Cowboys and No. 25 Ducks was the only pairing in the Round of 64 featuring two ranked teams.
So did the selection committee get it wrong with Oregon?
"Oh, I think they would admit to that," Cowboys coach Travis Ford said. "I think they watch TV and every single person you run into has said the same thing. ... You could see that they're a really good basketball team. Twenty-six wins, win at UNLV, won the Pac-12 Tournament. So I think they would say that, just because every single other person that I've seen (has), and that's been the topic of the NCAA tournament. Every time you turn around that's the topic. I knew right away after watching them this was not your typical 12 seed."
Smart, the Big 12 player of the year and freshman of the year, had just six points in the first half and never truly got untracked. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Smart had a huge size advantage over Artis (6-1, 185) and Johnathan Loyd (5-8, 165), but rarely exploited that edge.
Loyd and Artis used their quickness to attack Smart on the defensive end. When they needed a break, Emory and Dotson took turns defending Smart.
"We really focused on team defense," Artis said. "Keeping him off the glass, not letting him get easy buckets. Trying to keep him out of the lane. Went over the top on all picks. Just made him fade and tried to keep him uncomfortable (and away) from what he likes to do."
With Kazemi leading the way, Oregon dominated on the boards, outrebounding Oklahoma State 44-32.
"Obviously we are the underdogs through this tournament, and we just wanted to come out strong and show who we are and play great defense," Kazemi said. "It's not all about our offense, but we were really aggressive on the offensive end, too."
The Ducks certainly didn't look like a 12 seed in the first half while building a 37-26 lead. Dotson scored 11 points, while Kazemi nearly had a double-double by halftime with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Markel led the Cowboys with nine first-half points.
The Cowboys turned the ball over 10 times in the first half and made just 2 of 6 free throws. Ford attributed those numbers as signs his team was tighter than usual.
"I thought we came out a little ... jittery, and the first half really set the tone," Ford said. "Hard to fight back."
Smart came into the game on a roll, averaging 21.0 points, 6.25 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3.0 steals over his four previous games, but he got off to a slow start against Oregon. He made just 2 of 5 shots in the first half and didn't have a point until making two free throws with 7:47 left.
Smart took a hard fall with just over six minutes left to play and hurt his right wrist -- he said he was headed for an MRI -- but played the rest of the game in pain. By the time Smart was injured, the Ducks led by 14 and were in complete control.
"I definitely wish I could have done more for my team," Smart said. "I feel like I let my team down. I didn't contribute to my team the way I usually do. And it hurt us a little bit."
Oklahoma State took a 12-11 lead with 13:44 left in the half, but Oregon went on an 8-0 run with Loyd and Kazemi scoring four points apiece to grab a 19-12 edge. The Ducks never trailed again.
The Ducks opened the second half with a 17-12 run, pushing their lead to 54-38 on Artis' 3-points show with just over 11 minutes left. Artis, playing in his seventh game since missing nine straight with a foot injury, had eight points during that spurt.
Artis averaged just 3.3 points in his previous six games before facing Oklahoma State. But the San Francisco native, who played his first three years of high school basketball at Salesian High in the East Bay city of Richmond, looked close to his old self Thursday.
"As far as being back home, just seeing my family and friends from high school really gave me the extra adrenaline and helped us come out with the win," Artis said.
The Cowboys clawed back to within 11 points at 56-45 when Michael Cobbins scored from inside with eight minutes left, but Emory answered with a 3-point shot from the left corner.
"We ran into a very hot team, a very hot team," Ford said. "I mean, I've watched a lot of games on these guys and how they've played the last three games compared to how they were playing two or three weeks ago. This was a hot basketball team."