Ehab Amin started the second half by cheering on his Oregon teammates from the bench during a scoring drought that seemed like it would never end.
When the fifth-year senior got into the game, he provided a jolt of energy that carried Oregon to the Sweet 16.
Amin’s 3-pointer ended a run of 14 straight points for UC Irvine and provided the pivotal spark that helped the Ducks became the lone double-digit seed to advance to next weekend by beating UC Irvine 73-54 on Sunday night.
“Once we got a couple of baskets, our energy level went way up,” coach Dana Altman said. “Ehab had some key steals and then we just started bouncing around again. But we were stuck in the mud. I put them to sleep at halftime with my speech.”
Payton Pritchard led 12th-seeded Oregon (25-12) with 18 points, Louis King added 16 and Amin had 12 points and three steals. The Ducks have won 10 straight after a lackluster start to the season and will play top-seeded Virginia in the South Regional semifinal on Thursday.
“They fought back and came back and we could have been dead in the water again, but we’re resilient,” Pritchard said. “Just credit to this team and what we’re capable of.”
After going more than seven minutes without scoring to start the second half and squandering all of a 12-point lead, Oregon used a 15-3 run to take control and end a 17-game winning streak for the 13th-seeded Anteaters (31-6).
Amin started it with a 3-pointer and caused two turnovers. Pritchard scored seven points in the spurt, and the game quickly turned into a laugher with Kenny Wooten getting a block on one end and an alley-oop on the other to make it 68-49 with just more than two minutes to play.
Robert Cartwright scored 14 points and Evan Leonard added 11 for UC Irvine, which came into the game with longest active winning streak in the nation.
“I feel like we gave everything we had, and I know the final score isn’t indicative of how hard we played tonight and our entire season, but looking back on it, we’re extremely grateful that we’ve had this experience,” Cartwright said. “I know we believe we could have gone farther.”
The Anteaters looked like an entirely different team coming out of halftime starting with a 3-pointer by Cartwright on the opening possession. That started a run of 14 points in a row that put UC Irvine ahead 37-35 on a layup by Cartwright.
The Ducks missed their first 11 shots from the field and committed four turnovers before finally breaking through on Amin’s 3-pointer that ended a drought of 7:32. Amin then drew a charge, and King followed with another 3 that put Oregon up 41-37 midway through the half.
“As soon as Ehab made that basket I knew he was going to turn it on for us,” Wooten said. “Then he got a charge. That’s all the energy we needed.”
Wooten capped the 15-3 burst with an emphatic dunk that made it 50-40.
The Ducks jumped on top early and used a 10-1 run featuring an emphatic slam by Wooten to take a 27-16 lead. They led 35-23 at the break.
UC Irvine: The most successful season in Anteaters history has come to an end. They set a school record for wins, won the Big West Tournament title and got the first NCAA Tournament win in school history. They put up a good fight against the more talented Ducks but ultimately fell short.
Oregon: After stumbling along at 15-12 late last month following a three-game losing streak, the Ducks look like the team ranked 14th in the preseason poll. With Pritchard as the floor leader, Amin providing energy and Wooten patrolling the inside, they are back in the Sweet 16 two years after making a Final Four run.
About the only thing going well for the Ducks during that second-half drought was Wooten’s defense. He had two impressive blocks at the rim against Jonathan Galloway and Cartwright to prevent Oregon from falling even further behind. He finished the game with seven blocks and had 11 overall on the weekend.
Oregon advances to play Virginia on Thursday in the Sweet 16 in Louisville, Kentucky.
— UCI Men's Basketball (@UCImbb) March 25, 2019