When your hopes rest largely on stars who get injured, you’re not supposed to excel. You’re supposed to play the “happy to be here” role and be thankful for every win you scrape your way to.
Not at the University of Oregon.
The Ducks men’s basketball team lost projected starting point guard Dylan Ennis to a season-ending foot injury after the transfer appeared in just two games.
Then, the day of its penultimate regular season game, the women’s team lost record-setting forward Jillian Alleyne.
Despite not having their point guard, the men’s team went undefeated at home, won the Pac-12 Tournament, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and advanced all the way to the Elite Eight.
Without Alleyne, the UO and Pac-12 career leader in rebounding, the women’s team finished the regular season on a two-game losing streak and crashed out of the Pac-12 Tournament in the opening round, but rebounded to advance all the way to the Final Four in the women’s NIT.
Two great seasons any way you measure it, especially considering what each team had to overcome.
The men went 31-7 over the 2015-16 season, going undefeated at Matthew Knight Arena. The Pac-12 was tied for the lead among all conferences with seven teams making the NCAA Tournament, and the Ducks beat all of them at least once. Winners of the inaugural NCAA Tournament in 1939, the UO took down Holy Cross 91-52 in the opening round and Saint Joseph’s 69-64 in the second round, setting up a date with five-time NCAA champions Duke in the Sweet Sixteen.
The Ducks took it to the Blue Devils from the opening tipoff, and while they were only up five at halftime, they stretched the lead to 16 at one point during the second half. In the end, the UO ran out 82-68 winners, with Dillon Brooks scoring 22 and Elgin Cook 16. Cook also finished one rebound shy of a double-double.
Matched up against No. 2 seed Oklahoma in the Elite Eight, the Ducks turned out to be flat-out overmatched. Buddy Hield, two-time Big 12 player of the year and winner of the Wooden Award, Naismith Award, Oscar Robertson Trophy, and Sporting News Player of the Year, scored 37 points and shot 8-of-13 from beyond the arc. Cook (24), Chris Boucher (14), and Tyler Dorsey (11) all scored in double figures for the UO, but with the team shooting 4-of-21 from the three-point line—while the Sooners shot 12-of-24—the Ducks were always up against it. In the end, OU beat the UO 80-68, ending a season that included the most wins in school history, regular season and conference tournament titles, and the first-ever No. 1 seed.
While the regular season and conference tournament losing streak knocked the women’s team out of NCAA Tournament contention, the Ducks were able to recover and make a deep run in the WNIT. The team went 24-11, one win shy of the program record under first-year head coach Kelly Graves, and won their first four games in the WNIT, playing the first three at home.
Long Beach State was the first to be dispatched, 84-76, followed by Fresno State, 84-59. In the Sweet Sixteen, the Ducks brushed aside conference rivals Utah, 73-63, leaving just UTEP between them and the Final Four.
The Miners came out swinging in El Paso, and raced out to an 18-point lead in the first half. Undefeated at home this season, UTEP looked set to blow out the Ducks and send them reeling back to Eugene. The UO caught fire in the second quarter though, and went into the break down only five, with Kat Cooper draining a pair of three-pointers to bring the Ducks back into the game, and Maite Cazorla leading all players with 10 points.
A Lexi Peterson layup with 9:13 left gave the UO its first lead of the game, and while UTEP was able to keep it close for a while, with 36 seconds left the Ducks had staked themselves to a 9-point lead at 70-61. The Miners attempted a late comeback but couldn’t close the gap entirely, and the UO advanced to the Final Four on the back of a 71-67 victory.
The two-time WNIT champions were unable to make it past the Final Four though, and dropped an 88-54 decision to red-hot South Dakota. The Ducks started slowly again, and trailed by 10 at the end of the first quarter. This time though, there would be no comeback. The Coyotes led by 14 at halftime, and 36 at the end of the third quarter. Stunned, the UO was never able to make inroads over the final 10 minutes, and finished the game 34 points behind South Dakota. The hosts were unstoppable from the three-point line, going 15-of-21, and six players—including two bench players—scored in double digits.
Two days before the game, Alleyne was named to the AP All-America third team. Brooks was named honorable mention for the men.