LAS VEGAS (AP) — Oregon looked nothing like a team fighting for a longshot NCAA Tournament spot. The Ducks struggled with Washington State’s physical defense, clanged one shot after another, had a whopping 17 points by halftime.
A little second-half surge got them going. A lot of grit and two big Kenny Wooten blocks got them into the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals.
Payton Pritchard scored on a runner late in overtime and Wooten had a pair of blocked shots in the final 13 seconds, lifting Oregon to a 64-62 victory over Washington State in the opening round of the of the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday night.
“We’re fortunate that we advanced,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “I’m happy that we found a way to win on a night that we obviously were struggling. So now we just got to move on and forget about that one and move on to tomorrow night.”
Washington State (12-19) led by three, but Troy Brown scored on a hard drive and Pritchard put Oregon (21-11) up 63-62 on his runner. After Wooten blocked Malachi Flynn’s drive, Pritchard missed two free throws and Brown was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound.
Brown made 1 of 2 to give the Ducks a final chance, but Wooten swooped in to erase Milan Acquaah’s drive just before the buzzer sounded.
Oregon moves on to play No. 3 seed Utah in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
“The last two plays I just tried to do as much as I can on the defensive end,” Wooten said. “That’s pretty much it.”
Pritchard and MiKyle McIntosh had 18 points each to help Oregon rally from a dismal first half.
Flynn had 22 points and Robert Franks added 16 for Washington State, which led until the final minute of regulation.
Oregon had a 20-win regular season and a winning record in the Pac-12, yet still is considered a fringe NCAA Tournament bubble team.
The Ducks need a good run in the conference tournament, possibly all the way to the title game.
The first step there was the second game against Washington State in six days. The Cougars won that game 78-76 behind a superb all-around game by Flynn.
Oregon’s push didn’t get off to a very good start. The Ducks missed their first six shots and didn’t score in the opening 5:15.
Oregon continued to clang — 4 for 15 — and Washington State started to find the range after a slow start, building a 10-point lead.
The Cougars lost the range after that, going scoreless over the final 4:16 to allow the Ducks to keep within 24-17 at halftime despite shooting 7 of 24.
“There was never any flow to our offense,” Altman said. “When we didn’t execute anything, we looked really bad. Guys just dribbling, trying to make something for themselves. The ball movement just wasn’t there.
Oregon’s struggles carried into the second half. The Ducks opened 2 for 11 from the floor and trailed by 11 in the early going.
Oregon kept the Cougars within reach behind its defense — more than 4 scoreless minutes — and pulled within 34-33 after going on a 12-2 run.
It was a back-and-forth duel from there.
Washington State played a gritty game in its finale, particularly on defense, but came up one play short.
Oregon kept itself in an ugly game with its defense, finding a way to win and keep its slim NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
Washington State’s season is over.
Oregon will play No. 3 seed Utah in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
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