The Tall Firs try to recapture the magic of 1939

I was surprised when seven teams from the Pac-12 were selected for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, so it was no shock when six of them were eliminated in the first weekend of play.

I’m not a big college hoops fan, but I didn’t see much in the Pac-12 games I watched to suggest there were any power houses lurking on the Left Coast. Then again, no team in the country seemed to be able to dominate: Six No. 1 teams in the AP Poll got beat this year.

The only Pac-12 team that managed to avoid last week’s carnage was Oregon, which advanced to the Elite Eight last night with a 82-68 win over Duke. (This was not a big surprise in Vegas, where the bookies had the Ducks favored by 3.5 points. Angle players noted that Duke was 0-4 in tournament games played in the western time zone.)

While Oregon was seeded No. 1 in the West Region, Sports Illustrated is correct when it states “Oregon remains the least-heralded No. 1 seed…” That’s true for two reasons: The West Coast is not a hoops hotbed, and most of the Ducks’ TV games start about the time Easterners are going to bed.

Coach Dana Altman has slowly built a strong program in his six years at Eugene, mainly be ignoring the home-grown talent. Not one Oregonian is on the team’s 13-man roster, but six Californians are. (That’s one reason the school is known as the University of California at Eugene.)

Altman’s recruiting has been helped by the school’s athletic training center, considered the Taj Mahal of such facilities, and the new state-of-the-art Matthew Knight Arena where the team plays its home games. All of this was financed by Phil Knight, an Oregon grad and founder of Nike.

If Oregon can beat Oklahoma tomorrow, it will advance to the Final Four for the time since 1939, when the school won the first NCAA championship. They were known as “The Tall Firs” in those days.

HAZARDOUS DUTY: ESPN broadcast one or two Pac-12 games every week during the season with Dave Pasch doing the play-by-play and Bill Walton providing the commentary. Walton has become a first-class space cadet in recent years (probably from all of those years following the Grateful Dead) and Pasch had to keep him from going off the deep end while simultaneously providing a coherent narrative of the game. I hope he got a bonus for that.




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