MILWAUKEE – Someone asked Elgin Cook when he finally could beat his father one-on-one, and Oregon's sophomore forward leaned forward in his chair Wednesday and smiled. “I always did,” Cook said, before laughing and correcting the record himself. He guessed it was only in the past two or three years that he could take on and take down Dad, former NBA defensive player of the year Alvin Robertson. In a way, a father's orneriness ought to have served as a teaching point to a son: to compete the entire length of the court, to renounce complacency.
“His biggest pet peeve about me? Sometimes I don't play has hard as he'd like me to,” Cook said. “Definitely working on that.”
It is a work in progress, with a heavy emphasis on progress Thursday. In his hometown, in the NCAA tournament, after relieving teammates of as many tickets as he possibly could, Cook had the best day of his college basketball career. His 23 points helped push the seventh-seeded Ducks past 10th-seeded BYU in a 87-68 victory at the Bradley Center, setting up a Saturday round of 32 matchup with No. 2 seed Wisconsin. Cook, who took his mother's last name, was an all-over force from the time he checked in off the bench, hitting 8 of 9 shots and collecting eight rebounds in a performance that qualified as another stirring March breakthrough.
He'd averaged just 6.3 points and 3.6 rebounds for the Ducks this season. He'd recorded just seven double-figure scoring efforts, and only one since Dec. 14. When Cook checked out with a little more than four minutes to play, Oregon staffers greeted him with knowing smiles. “He played incredible, that's exactly what we needed,” Ducks forward Mike Moser said. “Maybe in a sense you could say it was a surprise, but we see him every day. He's one of the best athletes on the team. We see him take the ball off somebody's head and just go dunk it. It's more 'It's about time' than 'Oh, wow.'”
A day earlier, Cook also was asked to guess the amount of tickets he scrounged up for the game in his home city. His answer: a lot, saying he scored some off any teammate he could. “He was was fired up right from the selection show,” Ducks guard Johnathan Loyd said. But there was a distinctly bloodless aspect to his Thursday and his performance. Cook said family and friends regularly send him motivational messages on game days. He just couldn't cite one he received before his NCAA tournament debut, because he deliberately hadn't checked his phone before suiting up for business.
“If we would have lost, 23 points, eight rebounds mean nothing,” Cook said. “I'm just glad we got the win. I give credit to my teammates. They knew I was in my hometown, they knew I had a lot of emotion, and they just kept feeding me the ball.”
His outing was emblematic of a grainy approach that carried through the roster.
In a previous meeting between the teams on Dec. 21 -- a 100-96 Ducks win in overtime -- BYU shot 47.2 percent from the floor and scored 84 points in regulation. And Oregon would come into the NCAA tournament ranked 93rd in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. Still, this time, the Ducks limited BYU – who scored more total points (2,863) than any team in the nation before the tournament – to 31.7 percent shooting. They also contained BYU's explosive Tyler Haws, with the junior sharpshooter scoring 19 points but needing 18 shots to do it.
“We knew what they were going to do,” Ducks guard Damyean Dotson said. “We just tried to limit Haws to tough shots and limit them to one shot, that was our main focus. We did get a couple stops when it was needed.”
Cook was assertive from the jump, hitting all four shots he took in a 10-point first half. But his most percussive plays came after intermission, helping to set and then reset the tone. He first posted back-to-back scores off offensive rebounds, the second of which came on a vicious, eye-popping follow dunk in transition to bump the Oregon lead to 12. Cook wheeled and pounded his chest and crossed his forearms in a signal to the family and friends in the crowd behind the Ducks' bench, so juiced that a game official pulled him aside to tell him to tone down the showmanship when BYU called timeout moments later.
Then, after BYU crawled within three midway through the second half, Cook registered a three-point play and followed that with two more free throws, accounting for five of the Ducks' next seven points after the Cougars threatened to upend the entire afternoon. It all sparked a 17-6 run – capped, of course, by a Cook layup – that turned a three-point game into a comfortable 14-point advantage that kept swelling almost until the final horn.
“It was the same kind of look,” Dotson said of Cook's approach. “He doesn't make too many faces. But I saw it coming.”
As time ticked away, Cook turned to the crowd, waved his right hand and smiled. He and the Ducks will face a team he grew up 80 miles away from, though Cook said he never thought about playing for Wisconsin or even Marquette before he began his post-high school days at Northwest Florida State College.
After one year there, Cook landed at Oregon, deadpanning that it was simply the best decision for him. No one was peeved about anything Thursday, even if it was sort of hard to tell with the homecoming king for a day.
“This definitely is a big win, but at the end of the day, we're not satisfied,” Cook said flatly. “Our season isn't over.”
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