When the NCAA Tournament bracket was announced, the dream in the Pacific Northwest was to have Oregon and Gonzaga meet in the final game of 2017 for their one shining moment. It seemed like a pipe dream.
But one statistic indicated it possible: Field-goal percentage for opponents.
And now, entering the final weekend, the Bulldogs rank second in the nation, with their opponents having shot 36.5 percent from the field. The Ducks are 24th at 40.4 percent — third among the Final Four combatants in Glendale, Arizona (South Carolina has allowed 39.8 percent, which ranks 15th in the nation; North Carolina is at 41.6 percent, 60th).
While Gonzaga didn't face Oregon's caliber of conference competition, the Zags, like the Ducks, are impeccably prepared, and both are willing to make the necessary defensive effort.
Was Oregon lucky that Kansas players at least three times knocked rebounds out of their teammates hands in Sunday's Elite Eight knockout? Or were the Ducks — especially Jordan Bell — so focused and so on their toes that key loose balls seemed to find them?
We don't want to jinx it. But how cool would it be to have Oregon and Gonzaga play Monday night for the title? The matchup probably would cloud the shine of the moment for CBS' ratings. But in this corner of the country, it would be fun to see a game many have yearned for in recent years as Gonzaga, and now Oregon, have climbed to national prominence.
• It's impossible to overstate what the Ducks have accomplished, after their win over Kansas in Kansas City. Consider that Gonzaga, somewhat of a national darling for going on two decades, had never made the Final Four until this year.
How tough is it to get there?
Oregon almost lost to Rhode Island — Rhode Island! And the Ducks could have lost to Michigan. Gonzaga had to pass tense tests from Northwestern and West Virginia.
Reaching the Final Four requires talent, focus and the kind of bounces that teams with talent and focus tend to get more often than others.
Still, there are no guarantees. Exhibit A in these parts are Ralph Miller's Oregon State teams of the early 1980s. From 1980-82, the Beavers were 77-11 and finished three consecutive seasons ranked in the AP top five. Those were great teams, led by local talent. But none got to a Final Four.
The Ducks are 33-5. More than half those wins came at Matthew Knight Arena, and at one point Oregon was 5-4 outside the state of Oregon. But since a three-point loss on Feb. 9 at UCLA, the Ducks are 12-1 away from Eugene (losing only the Pac-12 tournament final by three to Arizona, in the wake of the season-ending injury to forward Chris Boucher).
Saturday's regional final in Kansas is in the books as a neutral-site game — but in truth it was the most impressive and most important road win in Oregon basketball history
Timbers march on
It wasn't a perfect March for the Portland Timbers, but after a disappointing loss at Columbus on Saturday, the team is on better early-season footing than in any of its first six MLS seasons.
The Timbers — who next play on Sunday, vs. New England at Providence Park — were in position to at least earn a draw at Columbus. Late in the match, Crew forward Ola Kamara twice eluded his mark in front of goal, and despite a nice reaction save from Jake Gleeson, the second of those forays turned into the finale goal in the 3-2 Crew victory.
So, the Timbers finished the first month with a 3-1 record. Considering they were without Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman on Saturday because of international duty, and given that the left side of their defense has been manned by understudies, a narrow road loss was not a red flag. It was mostly evidence of the value of Nagbe and newcomer Guzman, both expected back for New England.
Bottom line: Portland's offense remains the most productive in the league, with 12 goals through four games. And, the Timbers' league-leading 11 assists have come from eight different players. Alvas Powell joined the list at Columbus with his assist on Fanendo Adi's fourth goal of the year.
Missing defenders Liam Ridgewell and Vytas with injuries in the last three matches has hurt Portland. But unlike in many games last season on the road, this year's makeshift back line gives the Timbers a chance to get positive results.
Timbers 2 had a rough start to its United Soccer League season on Saturday. Real Monarchs, the Real Salt Lake USL affiliate, won 2-1 by converting twice from corner kicks that were poorly defended. Former Timbers midfielder Nick Besler scored in the second half to give the Monarchs a 2-0 lead before a mistake by goalkeeper Andrew Putna gifted Portland's Augustine Williams a goal.
An announced crowd of 2,602 attended the match at Providence Park, the new home for T2, which had been playing at the University of Portland.
T2 is back in action on Wednesday in Kansas City, Missouri against Swope Park Rangers. The next T2 home match for is Saturday, April 8, with a 7 p.m. kickoff vs. Orange County.
— Paul Danzer