As soon as Oregon secured a top-four seed in this week’s Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, many Ducks fans started looking toward a potential semifinal contest against top-seeded UCLA.
Fourth-seeded Oregon (18-13) must address the immediate task at hand, however, when it faces fifth-seeded Washington State (17-15) on Thursday.
The Cougars have won their last seven games, including 69-52 over 12th-seeded Cal in a first-round contest Wednesday.
Oregon coach Dana Altman is optimistic about his team’s chances in the conference tournament, but he knows the Ducks can’t afford to look past dangerous Washington State.
“There is no Friday if you don’t play well Thursday,” Altman said. “So you expend whatever you have to expend, try and win the game as best you can on Thursday.”
The teams split their first two meetings this season. Oregon posted a 74-60 win in Eugene on Dec. 1, and Washington State edged the Ducks 68-65 in Pullman on Feb. 19.
The Cougars are led by forward Mouhamed Gueye and guard TJ Bamba, who combined for 27 points in the victory over Cal. Forward DJ Rodman recorded his third career double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Washington State is peaking at the right time, but the Cougars don’t have much time to recover after a physical first-round matchup.
“Hopefully we can get enough rest,” Cougars coach Kyle Smith said. “We’ll need our bench to step up against because Oregon throws about eight or nine guys at you with big bodies, and we’ll have to really battle them on the glass.”
Oregon closed the regular season with three straight wins, including last Saturday’s 73-68 victory over Stanford. Senior center N’Faly Dante had 15 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots to lead the Ducks.
Dante was named to the All-Pac-12 first team after leading Oregon in points (13.5), rebounds (8.2) and blocks (1.4). The 6-foot-11 center will face a tough matchup against Gueye, who also received first-team honors.
The winner of Thursday’s contest will advance to face either No. 9 seed Colorado or UCLA in the semifinals on Friday night.
–Field Level Media