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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Chris who? Oh yeah, him – Chris Boucher, Oregon’s second-leading rebounder and an imposing inside presence.
So far, the Ducks could have used him but they haven’t needed him. It’s been two weeks since Oregon lost Boucher for the season with a blown-out knee.
Strangely, Oregon has thrived - even without Boucher – on the boards and in the bracket. Jordan Bell pulled down the biggest rebound of the post-Boucher era and one of the biggest in Oregon history Thursday.
Bell’s rebound, his 13th of the game, of Dillon Brooks’ missed layup with 18 seconds remaining helped preserve a 69-68 win over seventh-seeded Michigan in the Midwest Regional Semifinal.
For the second straight year the Ducks are in the Elite Eight. And, yes, Oregon outrebounded Michigan – 36-31 in this game and has a 112 to 86 advantage on the boards combined in three tournament games.
The scoring advantage in the paint was 34-16. All without Boucher.
How far can they take this without the 6-foot-10 Boucher? That’s yet to be determined. But the third-seeded Ducks will play Saturday to move into their first Final Four since winning the first NCAA Tournament in 1939.
That’s a 77-year drought if you’re counting.
“I feel really bad for Chris,” coach Dana Altman said, “It’s tough to see him on the bench wanting to be involved.”
All the Ducks could do was watch at the end as Michigan guard Derek Walton Jr. squeezed off a 3-pointer with two seconds to go. At that point Oregon still had two fouls to give.
“Yeah, we were supposed to foul,” Altman said. “Fortunately, it didn’t go in.”
Walton’s shot bumped short giving the Ducks a school-record 32nd win.
Tyler Dorsey’s driving shot in the lane with 68 seconds left was eventually the game-winning margin. The Ducks scored the last four points of the game after trailing 68-65 with two minutes left.
Michigan lived by the three and ultimately died by it. The Wolverines put up 31 3s, their most since Feb. 4. Since that date, Michigan had been 12-2, sweeping the Big Ten Tournament winning six games in 10 days.
It couldn’t seal the deal on a back-and-forth game that featured 16 lead changes.
Some dude from Illinois named Maverick Morgan challenged the Wolverines manhood on Jan. 11 when he said they were “a white-collar team.”
Michigan took inspiration from that but the season really kicked in after its plane skidded off the runway on the way to the Big Ten Tournament.
They played a game in their practice jerseys. They won four Big Ten Tournament games in four days. They beat Oklahoma State and Louisville by a combined five points to get here.
If Michigan is a Big Blueblood, Oregon is a nouveau power. Only five other schools have won at least one NCAA Tournament game the last five seasons – Gonzaga, Kansas, North Carolina and Wichita State.