Virginia is two victories away from reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1984.
But junior point guard Ty Jerome would be just fine if that chatter was curbed for the rest of the week.
“Everyone is talking about a Final Four, but I’ve never been to a Sweet 16,” Jerome said after the Cavaliers’ second-round win over Oklahoma.
Jerome will indeed be at a Sweet 16 location on Thursday when top-seeded Virginia (31-3) squares off with 12th-seeded Oregon (25-12) in South Region play at Louisville, Ky.
Jerome, who averages 13.0 points and 5.3 assists, was a freshman reserve two years ago when the Cavaliers were routed 65-39 by Florida in the second round. And, of course, events were even worse last season when Virginia became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 when UMBC delivered a 74-54 opening-round trouncing.
Last season’s startling loss has hung over the team all season — and ramped back up when the Cavaliers trailed No. 16 Gardner-Webb by 14 in the first half before they rallied for a first-round win.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett doesn’t even fight it. He understands that the situation is the first of its kind.
“There’s pressure and excitement and tension to try to advance in this tournament, that’s always there, but it was a different feel,” Bennett said after the Oklahoma contest. “It’s unlike anything — well, no college basketball team really in the history of the game has had to go through that.
“It’s our doing. We were the first 1 seed to lose last year, and then all of a sudden to fight back and become a 1 seed, and then to be in that situation again. You talk about trying to focus in and then getting down, it was real.”
Red-hot Ducks formidable foe
The Cavaliers will likely receive a battle from the Ducks, who are one of the hottest teams in the nation with 10 straight wins.
Oregon defeated Wisconsin and UC Irvine by an average of 18.5 points and allowed just 54 points in each victory.
“We’re not satisfied yet,” junior point guard Payton Pritchard said after the win over UC Irvine. “We don’t want to just go to Sweet 16 and lay an egg. We’ll go in and fight. We’re happy with making the Sweet 16, but we want more. We don’t play basketball just to make two rounds. We play to win it all.”
The Ducks sure weren’t playing that way just over a month ago. Oregon lost by an average of 13 points during a three-game losing streak against Oregon State, Southern California and UCLA and allowed a season-worst 90 points to the Bruins.
At that point, the Ducks were 15-12 and going nowhere fast.
But back-to-back routs over Arizona State (79-51) and Arizona (73-47) sparked a stunning turnaround that included four wins in four days to win the Pac-12 tournament title prior to the back-to-back NCAA Tournament blowout victories.
Pritchard, who averages 13.0 points and 4.6 assists, struggles to explain how it all happened.
“I can’t really put my finger on it, but we were really low,” Pritchard recalled. “We were at a low point against USC and just, you know, we were dead in the water. Either the season was going to be over at that point or we’re going to change it and see what we could make happen.”
Oregon will show up and it will try to end Virginia’s March Madness fun in the Sweet 16.
“They don’t make mistakes. They’re not going to beat themselves,” Ducks coach Dana Altman said of the Cavaliers after the win over the Anteaters. “But we’ve got a puncher’s chance, and we’ll go swing away and see what happens.”
–Field Level Media