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Lieberman: Washington blowout should spark a late-season run by Oregon basketball

The shots kept falling, one after another: A three-pointer, a banking runner, a tip-in before the halftime buzzer.

By the time Oregon’s matchup with Washington reached intermission, fans were pleasantly surprised upon glancing up at Matthew Knight Arena’s sparkling, high-definition scoreboard.

Not only were the Ducks hanging with the conference-leading Huskies — they were flat-out dominating. On the strength of hot outside shooting and a suffocating 2-3 zone, Oregon was dictating the tempo and making diaper dandy Tony Wroten look like he was in need of a quick change. The score at the midway point: Oregon 49, Washington 26. @@[email protected]@

Possession after possession, the Ducks were the aggressor, slashing to the basket, moving the ball crisply, and generally refusing to remain stagnant. Yes, Oregon’s long-range snipers were on fire, which opened things up in the middle for everyone else. But make no mistake; the Ducks ran the Huskies out of the building with nearly flawless execution and a strong all-around performance in a number of categories.

Thursday night, Washington was outplayed in almost every facet of the game. The Huskies were beat on the boards (39-38), at the free-throw line (where the team shot an atrocious 7 for 18) and handling the ball (a 1.45 assist to turnover ratio for Oregon, versus 0.54 for Washington).

However, statistics fail to do the Ducks’ showing true justice. To be frank, the home team simply took the court with a swagger that couldn’t be matched or approached by a seemingly intimidated Husky squad that has struggled to gain traction on the road all season.

The edge could be seen after every high-arching Garrett Sim jumper that hit net, and could be heard after a series of skywalking dunks by Tony Woods and Carlos Emory. The Ducks weren’t coming out to aiming beat the Huskies — they were determined to put their stamp on this game and to leave a lasting mark on Washington, for better or for worse.

“I thought our enthusiasm and passion tonight really showed,” said head coach Dana Altman. “The crowd has great intensity… that is the type of energy you should have at home all the time. We have needed it all along.”

The Huskies were at the complete opposite end of the spectrum — it seemed like they couldn’t put together a string of quality possessions on offense or gain an ounce of momentum all night long. Shots rimmed off, passes flew array and free throws found iron. Though the team was able to put up a respectable effort in the second half, the fire and rhythm required to pull out a tough road victory was never there. Final score: Oregon 82, Washington 57.

While you can blame inexperience for the Washington’s shortcomings (the Huskies’ two top scorers are underclassmen) I’d prefer to credit Oregon’s defense. Every time Abdul Gaddy swung the ball or Tony Wroten took off down the lane, it seemed like a Duck was there to take the charge or put a hand in someone’s face. Even though Washington’s big men blew a handful of layups, an Oregon defender was almost always present to challenge an easy look.

In short, Oregon showed the confidence and spunk necessary to spark a second-half run in Pac-12 play. Does the team have the necessary components to rise to the top of the conference?

In short, maybe. The Ducks possess a sure-handed shooting guard (Devoe Joseph) a lights-out three-point gunner (Garrett Sim) and a series of effective role players that relish their duties night-in and night-out (E.J. Singler, Tony Woods, Olu Ashaolu). Throw in Carlos Emory, who broke out with a career-high 16 points on 7 of 8 shooting against the Huskies, and you’re looking a team that no one is looking forward to playing.

You can call me overly optimistic, but Oregon appears prepared to make a run as they enter their last six games of conference competition. If you doubt the Ducks, review tonight’s game film. Against a Washington team sporting NBA-caliber talent, the Ducks looked like a cohesive and confident unit that could make serious noise down the line.

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