One night after eking out an overtime win over Arizona State in the semifinals, Oregon men’s basketball took on Washington in the Pac-12 Championship title game with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line.
Oregon’s NCAA Tournament hopes looked dim following the Feb. 23 second-half collapse to UCLA. In order to make the Tournament, the Ducks would need a perfect end to their season. After wining seven games in a row, including three in the Pac-12 Tournament, the Ducks found themselves just one win away from March Madness.
Oregon entered the conference tournament needing four wins in four days. Heroics from up-and-down the roster carried Oregon through the first three days.
“I mean, it is March,” guard Ehab Amin said after the win over Arizona on March 2, the second win of this current eight-game streak. “Everybody came here for a reason. It’s sad that we became this close, this late, but it’s not too late.”
Amin was right. It wasn’t too late. Now after four perfect games in Las Vegas, the Ducks are dancing.
Playing its best basketball in the last two seasons, and riding a seven-game win streak, the Oregon men’s basketball team dismantled the Washington Huskies 68-48 to win the Pac-12 Tournament Championship and secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“It feels good,” head coach Dana Altman told ESPN’s Molly McGrath postgame. “The guys really got together and did a great job. … The guys decided they weren’t living up to expectations. They wanted to change.”
Oregon’s defense smothered the Huskies, holding the Pac-12 Player of the Year, Jaylen Nowell, to just eight points. Payton Pritchard’s four steals and Kenny Wooten’s four blocks helped hold Washington to 33.3 percent shooting.
More importantly, Washington’s top-8 players in minutes were in the negatives in plus/minus. Oregon’s top-8 were in the positives, highlighted by Paul White at +25.
Possibly the most exciting — and shocking — moment of the game was with one minute and 48 seconds left when Pritchard stole a pass and went coast to coast, slamming it home with a one-handed dunk. Oregon’s coaches, bench and fans went crazy as the exclamation point was placed on a miraculous March that will live another week.
“Everybody doubted us, gave up on us,” Pritchard told McGrath postgame. “The haters kept hating and they can’t hate no more.”
Oregon’s relied on the three usual sources to carry the offense. Pritchard, the lone remaining active player from the 2017 Final Four team, led the Ducks with 20 points and seven assists.
“We’re just happy to be there and we’re gonna make things happen,” Pritchard said.
Freshman Louis King and White combined for 29 points to complement Pritchard’s stellar game.
Amin and freshman forward Miles Norris combined for 31 points in the first-round win over Washington State. On day two, the Ducks defeated Utah with 20 point efforts from both Pritchard and King. King and Pritchard also combined for another 37 in the overtime win over ASU.
The NCAA Tournament Selection Show begins at 3 p.m. on Sunday on CBS.
Follow Maverick Pallack on Twitter @mavpallack