Two schools separated by over 3,000 miles will meet for the first time ever on Sunday when Oregon hosts UCF in the second round of the NIT in Eugene, Ore.
The top-seeded Ducks (20-14) are flying high following their opening-round 84-58 demolition of visiting UC Irvine on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Knights (19-14) make a rare cross-country trip after coasting past in-state rival Florida 67-49 on Wednesday in a road game at Gainesville.
Playing without its top three scorers in N’Faly Dante (ankle), Jermaine Couisnard (shoulder) and Will Richardson (hip), Oregon flashed its depth against the Anteaters thanks to breakout performances by three of its less-prominent scorers.
Rivaldo Soares (21 points), Nate Bittle (17) and Tyrone Williams (12) all notched season-high point totals to provide the offensive muscle for the Ducks, who matched their season-best with 12 3-pointers and stifled UC Irvine to 30 percent shooting.
“It was just the ‘next man up’ mentality,” Soares said after the win. “Everybody needed to be ready.”
That mentality will be integral for the Ducks ahead of Sunday’s game. Oregon coach Dana Altman announced after Wednesday’s game that Richardson is out for the tournament while Dante and Couisnard haven’t been cleared to play.
Oregon’s scoring options will be tested against a UCF team looking to build on one of its stingiest defensive efforts this season.
The Knights pressured the Gators into 18 turnovers, including 13 in the first half, and an anemic 4-for-24 (16.7 percent) clip from beyond the arc.
Darius Johnson racked up five steals and Taylor Hendricks swatted two blocks for UCF, who held an opponent below 50 points for the fifth time this season.
Offensively, Hendricks (17 points) and C.J. Kelly (21) were the Knights’ efficient 1-2 scoring combo, teaming up for 38 points on 60 percent shooting.
The win was UCF’s first-ever in Gainesville and gives head coach Johnny Dawkins’ squad an extra boost ahead of its trek into the Pacific Northwest.
“Having an opportunity to compete for a championship in a do-or-die situation, I know these players love to be in these situations, and so do I,” Dawkins said. “These are the times when you leave your legacy.”
The winner of Sunday’s game will meet the winner of No. 2 Wisconsin and No. 3 Liberty in the quarterfinals.
–Field Level Media