Jordan Bell takes blame for Final Four loss, receives support

Without him, OR had to grow very clear.

"We're a little more loose with it, and I think it's because we've been here before", Meeks told USA TODAY. They were ranked #5 in the preseason top 25.

It took the Ducks 78 years to return to the NCAA Final Four, but OR now is two wins away from ending college basketball's longest title drought. So why is it a bit of a surprise that they are here? "Obviously, we'd like to have them back, but they have to do what's best for them, and I understand that totally". The Ducks do it more through athleticism and effort, especially after losing shot-blocking stretch-forward Chris Boucher to a torn ACL in the Pac-12 tournament.

For years under coach Ernie Kent, the Ducks brought in talent, such as future National Basketball Association players Freddie Jones, Luke Ridnour, Luke Jackson and Aaron Brooks, which they turned into two Elite Eight runs in 2002 and 2007. Just like on this year's OR team, Bell never sought out awards OR extra attention. They still had great players, but it felt like a run in the tournament would be capped at some point. Heck ... how many threes did OR have go in the cylinder and out? But in the Elite Eight against Kansas - playing as true a road game as there ever is in the NCAA tournament - they suddenly played like that team from before. "(Josh) Perkins and Melson (Silas) were the only ones that played the year before significant minutes". Cameron Diaz, who went to Hughes and Poly just like he did, talked about those schools in a talk show interview. OR was in control the whole game and took out the Jayhawks in convincing fashion. Junior forward Dillon Brooks (16.3 points per game) is the teams unquestioned leader.

OR coach Dana Altman is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament-12 appearances with three teams (Kansas State, Creighton, and Oregon). Collins also had six blocks.

"I think that says a lot when you're at a school at that level, and you've had the same guys together for basically seven years". That's not an issue. Because North Carolina is a load to handle. The Ducks are very talented.

The Oregon-North Carolina national semifinal presents something of a 21st century anomaly: It could hinge largely on big men who like being big men.

North Carolina (31-7) has a national-best rebounding margin of plus-13 per game.

North Carolina had all it could handle in the second round against Arkansas.

The Tar Heels have been led all season by All-America wing Justin Jackson, who is averaging 18.2 points per game and shooting 38 percent from 3-point range (101 of 266).

And it certainly seems like this one is going to stick with Bell.

All three of these teams are good, and they will provide stiff competition for the Heels. It was thought his college career might be over, but OR successfully appealed to the NCAA to give him one more season. Nova won the game on a buzzer-beater 3-point bucket. Junior guard Joel Berry II is the floor leader, but is dealing with bad ankles that has limited his consistency in the tournament. He drilled one 3 that tied the game with 1:48 left, and also the shot that won it with 40 seconds to go. Bell got mouthy. Metoyer kicked him out of the gym and sentenced him to a mile on the track. If he can limit his fouls and contribute offensively, North Carolina is unmatched.

SC freshman Maik Kotsar is excited to have his parents see him play in person for the first time in his college career. They do have their flaws just like any other team however. "They're so athletic underneath, all they need to do is hit the rim with a shot and they'll get the rebound and score". But his ability to sky high above the crowd has made him a paramount piece of a Duck defense that blocks 17 percent of its opponents' two-point attempts this season, good for first in the country. Or will OR once again prove all the doubters wrong with another upset?

  • Julie Sanders