The Oregon basketball team had been the talk of the brackets for four days.
Thursday, the Ducks turned that into the talk of the court.
After listening to seemingly endless debate over its low seeding, the Pacific-12 Conference tournament champions played like a possible contender in its NCAA Tournament opener at HP Pavilion, stunning fifth-seeded Oklahoma State 68-55 in the Midwest Regional behind a stingy defense and a dominating performance on the backboards.
"I knew right away after watching them (on tape) this was not your typical 12-seed," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said after watching his team's season end at 24-9. "(Oregon's seeding) has been the topic of the NCAA Tournament. Every time you turn around, that's the topic.
"We ran into a very hot team, a very hot team."
The Ducks, who earned just a No. 12 seed in the region despite having tied for second in the Pac-12 regular season before sweeping to the conference tournament title, advance to a third-round matchup Saturday in San Jose against fourth-seeded Saint Louis, a 64-44 winner over New Mexico State earlier in the day.
Iranian-born senior forward Arsalan Kazemi recorded an 11-point, 17-rebound double-double, helping the Ducks (27-8) to a 44-32 board advantage, which Oregon coach Dana Altman identified as the difference in the game.
"We felt going into the game that was the one area that we could dominate the game in," Altman said of the Pac-12's top rebounding team. "We hammered for the last three days: 'Fellas, we've got to beat these guys on the boards. That's our advantage.'
"Arsalan, in particular, really did a great job in making that the difference in the game."
Kazemi had 10 of his points and nine of his rebounds, including four on the offensive end, in the first half, during which Oregon built a 37-26 that was never seriously threatened after halftime.
Oklahoma State, which was not a good 3-point shooting team (31.6 percent) in the regular season, misfired miserably from beyond the arc in its second-half comeback attempt, ruining a nice opportunity its defense had created.
"We had some good shots that didn't go down," said Ford, whose team missed 9-of-12 3-pointers in the second half to finish the game 5-for-17. "We took some tough ones, too. We never got into an offensive flow."
Forcing eight second-half turnovers and limiting Oregon to four field goals over the final 15:04 of the game, the Cowboys gave themselves a chance to cut significantly into what was a 54-38 deficit with just over 11 minutes to go.
But Oklahoma State missed five consecutive 3-point attempts at one point and could get no closer than 11 before Oregon was able to ice its first NCAA Tournament victory since 2007 from the free-throw line.
"We're the 5-seed and they're the 12 and we have to go two times zones over," complained Altman, whose team hadn't played in the Pacific time zone all season. "None of it really made any sense to me."
Damyean Dotson led the Ducks with 17 points, more than half of which came on three 3-pointers. Former San Francisco Bay Area prep standout Dominic Artis added 13 points and Carlos Emory 12 for the Ducks, who entered the game ranked 24th in the USA Today Coaches Poll despite its low tournament seeding.
Emory also had nine rebounds for the Ducks, who outrebounded the Cowboys 44-32.
Artis and Johnathan Loyd, a pair of smallish point guard, also teamed to harass Oklahoma State's 6-foot-4 standout Marcus Smart into 5-for-13 shooting. The Big 12 Player of the Year, who played through a broken right hand suffered in a fall in the second half, missed both his 3-point attempts and had five turnovers on a 13-point night.
"Focusing on defense really helped the team," said Artis, who had four of Oregon's eight steals. "Just seeing my family and friends from high school and everything really gave me the extra adrenaline and helped us come out with a win."
Smart's injury occurred when he was inadvertently tripped by while advancing the ball upcourt. He never left the game, however, and pointed to his team's poor night at the free-throw line (8 for 15) as another critical factor in the season-ending defeat.
"That's not characteristic of us," he said after missing four of his eight foul shots. "We are one of the best free-throw-shooting teams in the country."
Markel Brown had 16 points for Oklahoma State, which was coming off a loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Conference Tournament last week.
NOTES: The Oregon matchup with Saint Louis on Saturday will be a reunion of sorts for the Ducks' Altman, formerly the coach of Creighton, the Billikens' long-time Missouri Valley Conference rival. "They play a little slower tempo than we like," Altman said. ... Amid speculation that Smart will be a one-and-done collegian, the Cowboys' Ford insisted, "There's no decision been made." ... Smart's five steals in the game gave him 99 this season and tied him with Brooks Thompson for the all-time Oklahoma State single-season record. ... The game was the second between Oregon and Oklahoma State. The Ducks prevailed the only time previously as well, 68-55 in the Far West Classic in 1997. ... Oklahoma State was making its 25th NCAA Tournament appearance and first since losing to Georgia Tech in 2010. ... The win was a marked contrast to Oregon's previous experience in the San Francisco Bay Area this season. With Artis out of the lineup, the Ducks were beaten 76-52 at Stanford on Jan. 30 and 58-54 at Cal three nights later. ... The Ducks were rooted on by former Portland Trail Blazers standout Bill Walton, a UCLA alumnus.