Despite being ‘stuck in the mud,’ Oregon advances to Sweet 16
Kenny Wooten wasn’t exactly a household name before the NCAA Tournament began.
The star post player averaged just 6.3 points per game this season for the Oregon Ducks, who seemed a lock to miss the tourney before a surprise run to the Pac-12 tournament championship earlier in March.
The Pac-12 wasn’t worth watching for most of the season, so even the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year from last season didn’t get much national recognition.
Quick, can you even name the league’s player of the year?
March Madness has been a star turn for Wooten, though. The 6-foot-9, 235-pound sophomore is an NBA prospect in the mold of former Oregon big man Jordan Bell because of his athleticism and defensive instincts. He put those both on display in the No. 12-seed Ducks’ first-round upset of the No. 5-seed Wisconsin Badgers, and he’s doing the same in the second round against the No. 13-seed UC Irvine Anteaters.
First up was a blocked shot, which looks more impossible every time you see it. UC Irvine guard Robert Cartwright drew Wooten toward him near the free-throw line and tried to blow right by him. Wooten stuck with him and slapped a high-arcing layup attempt into the crowd. Look closely and notice Wooten hit his head on the backboard.
A few minutes later, he had the same sort of play on the opposite end of the floor, skying preposterously high to grab an alley-oop pass and dunk all over an Anteater.
And somehow he was even more electric in the second half.
Oregon took a 12-point lead into halftime in San Jose with Wooten setting the tone, then pulled away in the second half to beat the Anteaters, 73-54. Wooten was flat-out dominant, with 11 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks.
By the way, Washington Huskies guard Jaylen Nowell was Pac-12 Player of the Year.