Before Thursday night’s West Regional semifinal against Duke, Oregon forward Jordan Bell experienced conflicting emotions.
On the one hand, facing the Blue Devils fulfilled one of the 6-foot-9 sophomore’s personal objectives.
“I’ve always wanted to play against Duke,” Bell said Wednesday. “It’s been my college goal to play them at least once – and here I am, playing them at home.”
Yet playing roughly 25 miles from his Long Beach home provided its own challenges.
“I actually struggle more playing at home,” Bell said. “There’s more pressure. I feel like I have to play a great game. My family is here so, obviously, I want to play my best in front of my mom and dad, so there are a little more nerves.”
Nevertheless, in front of 17,601 at the Honda Center – including his family and Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant – Bell came off the bench to play a significant role in the top-seeded Ducks’ 82-68 victory.
The sophomore scored 13 points, grabbed seven rebounds, blocked three shots and made two steals in 26 minutes. The 13 points were Bell’s most since Dec. 21, when he amassed a season-high 15 against Alabama.
“He was an X factor for their team,” Duke guard Grayson Allen said. “He was going after everything, attacking the basket. He was going up to block everything. What he didn’t block, he was altering. He’s a very strong and athletic player.”
Bell was particularly effective in the first half, when he accumulated nine points, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 15 minutes.
“He challenged us at the rim,” freshman forward guard Brandon Ingram said. “When we attacked, he blocked shots well. He just got after it. He brought energy to their team. We didn’t attack strong and it showed up on the boards.”
With Bell’s help, Oregon dominated inside.
“They’re so good laterally and then they have guys that go vertical,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “If you get past the lateral on the drive, boom, the other stuff was there. You just don’t face that combination very often.”
The Ducks’ interior presence enabled them to ignite their fast break after sabotaging the Blue Devils’ offense.
“I know that gives us a spark, getting the big block and getting on transition,” Bell said. “Our main objective was just to run them off the line. We know they’re a great 3-point shooting team, so we just tried to make them put the ball on the ground.
“I told everybody that once you make them put it on the ground, don’t foul them. I’m going to get it.”
The Ducks needed Bell because starting 6-foot-10 center Chris Boucher, who leads the nation in blocks, swatted just one shot in 18 minutes while finishing with 11 points and four rebounds, both under his season average.
“Jordan did a great job protecting the middle,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said.
As the Ducks take an 11-game winning streak into Saturday’s regional final against second-seeded Oklahoma, Bell can finally enjoy the achievement of excelling during an important game in front of his family.
“They were sitting behind my bench,” Bell said. “I don’t get to see my family as much as I would like to. They’ve been supporting me all my life so I just wanted to go out there and play my heart out. It means everything to me.”