The Oregon Ducks maintained their inconsistent ways today, at first looking like they could take on anyone before stumbling through the last 23 minutes of the game before finally charging for the finish line with a five-point victory, 75-70.
The teams played relatively even basketball for the first four or five minutes and then the Ducks pulled ahead with a 13-2 run to go up 21-11. At this point in the game, Oregon was playing solid defense and owning the paint.
Up by 18 at 3:23, 38-20, the Ducks missed all of their shots for the rest of the first period, while the Cougars started hitting theirs, with WSU ending the half on a 10-0 run and now behind by single digits, 38-30.
At one point in the first half, Oregon was shooting over 62% to under 30% for WSU, but at the end of the half the Cougars had raised their numbers to 41.7% to 51.6% shooting for the Ducks. Oregon dominated the paint, but WSU closed on much better 3-point shooting than the Ducks; 5-12 (41.7%) to 3-14 (21.7%).
In the early part of the second period, WSU chipped away at the Oregon lead by shooting much better than they had during the first half, but for the first nine minutes the Ducks continued to live in the paint, with great efforts by all players not named Will Richardson. N’Faly Dante stood out - as he always does - but great second-chance efforts by Nathan Bittle and Kel’El Ware also contributed to the inside domination.
But the Cougars continued to chip away at Oregon’s lead, hitting shots from downtown that were not hitting for the Ducks.
Washington State pulled ahead 11 minutes into the second half, in large part because not only were the Ducks struggling offensively, but WSU was finding greater success inside.
The Cougars were nursing a three-point lead with a tad over four minutes left in the game. With 3:36 left in the game, WSU was up 68-70. The rest of the game would be such that even a healthy Ducks fan would want to be checking their blood pressure and perhaps take an aspirin for good measure or risk an aneurysm. Fortunately, Oregon closed out the rest of the half on a 7-0 run off the efforts of Keeshawn Barthelemy and Dante, with help at the free throw line from Rivaldo Soares.
In the closing seconds of the game, Oregon fans got quite the fright when Dante twisted his right ankle and required help to the bench. He appeared to have shaken it off after the game and will start for tomorrow’s third-round match.
After the game, this is what coach Dana Altman had to say, along with comments from Keeshawn Barthelemy and Jarmaine Couisnard (courtesy of Matt Prehm of Duck Territory):
Oregon prevailed on the glass, 35-30, and their control of the paint was crucial in countering the three-ball that WSU is so good at making. The Ducks ended with 42 points in the paint to 18 for the Cougars.
Barthelemy and Couisnard were the Oregon scoring leaders with 17 points each. N’Faly Dante registered his 10th double-double of the season, and fifth of the last six games.
TJ Bamba lead all scorers with 19 points, and WSU - which leads the conference in three point shooting - again shot well and made Oregon work for the win.
In the end, a win is still a win, and a Dana Altman team has still never lost their first game in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Up next is #1 seed UCLA, who had a bit of a tangle in the earlier game against Colorado before shutting down the Buffaloes to finish strong - a game that felt much like the game against Oregon in Eugene.
My impression is that Oregon must defeat UCLA to have a chance to go dancing. Sure, get the conference championship and the automatic qualifier is the goal you want to reach, but a 20-win season and a very good NET rating means that there’s possibilities for an at-large berth - if the right pieces fall into place. But of course, it really only happens with a victory against UCLA.