GLENDALE, Ariz. — Thirty minutes after its crushing 77-76 loss to North Carolina in the second of Saturday’s Final Four games, Oregon still hadn’t allowed the horde of reporters lined up outside its locker room to enter.
Only after the metal doors finally swung open did the reason for the delay become clear.
In front of his locker sat Oregon’s Jordan Bell, head bowed, face solemn and tears streaming down his cheeks. The junior forward was still as inconsolable as he had been just after the final buzzer when he lingered at the edge of the court, hunched over at the waist with his head buried in his hands.
Bell’s anguish stemmed from the two offensive rebounds he surrendered in the game’s final six seconds after North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks and Joel Berry II both missed back-to-back free throws to keep Oregon within a point. Had Bell been able to pull down either rebound, his team had time to sprint up court for one final attempt to win the game at the buzzer, something the Ducks have shown a knack for doing this season.
“People can tell me what they want — I lost the game for us,” Bell said.
“You play your ass off the whole year, and this was the moment that mattered. I didn’t do my job when it mattered.”
The first missed boxout, Bell admitted he just suffered an ill-timed concentration lapse. The 6-foot-9 Oregon forward failed to put a body on 6-foot-6 Theo Pinson, enabling the North Carolina wing to leap in the air and swipe the ball back to Berry.
“I was talking to my point guard telling him that if he missed I was going to outlet to him,” Bell said. “I forgot I had a job to do.”
The second missed boxout was a different sort of blunder. Bell initially put his body into Meeks but did not finish the job, enabling the North Carolina center to outmuscle him for the ball and run out the clock.
“I thought I had the second one,” Bell said. “He just took it from me. … I hit him and I went for it instead of hitting him and holding it. We talk about that all the time.”
That it was Bell who made the two biggest mistakes in Oregon’s season-ending loss is a cruel twist for a player who deserved a better ending. The Ducks would never have made it to the Final Four were it not for their long-armed, ultra-athletic big man with uncanny timing as a shot blocker.
Forced to take on more responsibility after fellow shot blocker Chris Boucher suffered a season-ending knee injury, Bell embraced the challenge, averaging 12.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in five NCAA tournament games. Oregon wouldn’t have been within striking distance of North Carolina on Saturday night were it not for Bell’s 13 points and 16 rebounds.
“It would have been nice to have those two rebounds because they were giving us this game,” Oregon forward Dillon Brooks said. “But without Jordan throughout this tournament, we would never be here. He’s been getting 15, 10 and 3 every game.”
Oregon coach Dana Altman told Bell the Ducks “wouldn’t have been in this position” if it wasn’t for him. It offered little consolation to Bell.
Brooks told Bell that the loss was just as much on him for fouling out with three minutes to go. Bell didn’t want to hear it.
Other Ducks players tried to point out they would have been ahead were it not for their 12 first-half turnovers, their over-reliance on 3-pointers or their poor shot selection down the stretch. It was again no solace to Bell.
If Bell is remembered more for the two rebounds he missed than the many play
“They told me they loved me, “Bell said. “They told me it wasn’t my fault. It’s a 40-minute game. It doesn’t come down to one play. But that was the final play.
“I knew if I got it, we would have scored. Tyler [Dorsey], Dylan [Ennis], Casey [Benson], someone would have scored. I just didn’t get the rebound.”
Those are the thoughts that will haunt Bell and his teammates this offseason. There’s a chance this group could return mostly intact next season to chase redemption, but Ennis is graduating and Bell, Dorsey and Brooks will all have to decide whether to remain in school or enter the NBA draft.
About a half hour after the horde of reporters finally exited the Oregon locker room, Bell offered one last window into the pain he was feeling.
“I’m so sorry,” he tweeted.
His teammates and coaches already have forgiven him. Perhaps in time he’ll forgive himself too.
More Final Four coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Here’s the most crucial aspect of Monday’s UNC-Gonzaga title game
• Phil Knight, Nike have ‘an interest’ in Lonzo Ball, but $1 billion is ‘a little steep’
• How Grant Hill went from having ‘no clue’ to calling the Final Four
• Gonzaga coach, 54, celebrates win with handstand
– – – – – – –