Top-seeded Oregon will be facing a Wisconsin team similarly focused on opportunity rather than disappointment when the Ducks host the Badgers in the NIT quarterfinals on Tuesday night in Eugene, Ore.
Oregon (21-14) defeated UCF 68-54 in the second round Sunday. Second-seeded Wisconsin (19-14), which had appeared in 22 of the last 23 NCAA tournaments before missing out this season, rallied past Liberty 75-71 on Sunday.
“We’ve got a chance to play Wisconsin on Tuesday night at home. We don’t get Big Ten teams to come out here very often,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “… So I hope the students will respond, that people respond.”
It will be the first meeting between the two since the 12th-seeded Ducks upset the fifth-seeded Badgers 72-54 in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
Oregon rolled past UCF behind a career-high 21 points and 13 rebounds from 7-foot sophomore Nate Bittle. The Ducks were again without their two top scorers, post player N’Faly Dante and guard Jermaine Couisnard. Their status vs. Wisconsin is undecided.
Dante, a first-team all-conference pick, has missed both games with an ankle injury. He averages 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Couisnard, out with a shoulder injury, averages 12.8 points per game.
Oregon also lost starting point guard Will Richardson (12.2 points, 5.1 assists per game) to a hip injury prior to the NIT.
The Ducks have won six of their last seven, marred only by a 75-56 loss to UCLA in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament.
Wisconsin rallied to beat Liberty behind a career-high 27 points from point guard Chucky Hepburn. Steven Crowl, who had a career-best 36 points in the opening NIT win over Bradley, scored 14 of the Badgers first 22 points against Liberty.
But the 7-foot junior got into foul trouble — including a Flagrant 1 foul and a technical late in the first half — and did not score the rest of the way.
“We were definitely upset that we didn’t make the (NCAA) Tournament, but we’re still playing extra basketball, can’t hang our heads,” Hepburn said following the Liberty game. “We’ve seen teams come into the NIT, mid-majors come to a Power Five home court and beat them. So, we can’t hang our heads. Still playing basketball, still in it to win it. NIT or March Madness, we’re in it to play.”
Crowl leads with 12.3 points and 6.8 boards per game, followed by Hepburn with 12.2 points. Freshman Connor Essegian averages 11.8 points with a team-high 66 3-pointers, and Tyler Wahl adds 11.5 points and 6.2 rebounds.
The methodical Badgers have played in 19 games decided by five points or fewer, going 12-7. Wisconsin also takes care off the ball, leading the nation in fewest turnovers per game at 8.5.