LAS VEGAS — Colorado no longer can lay claim to a unique and never-repeated run at the Pac-12 Conference tournament.
Oregon became the first and only team since the 2012 Buffaloes to win four games in four days at the tournament, running away from top-seeded Washington 68-48 in the championship game Saturday night to grab the Pac-12’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
It was Oregon’s fifth conference tournament championship overall and third in the past seven years.
After going through much of a mediocre Pac-12 season with the league fearing it might only get one bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Pac-12 suddenly is in position to land three spots. Washington remains a near-lock to be included in the 68-team field when it is announced Sunday, and Arizona State still is listed among the final teams expected to make the cut in most tourney projections.
Unlike the 2012 Buffs, Oregon had to defeat the tournament’s top two seeds on consecutive nights, beating second-seeded Arizona State in overtime in the semifinals Friday night. In 2012, sixth-seeded CU topped the three, two, and four seeds over the final three games.
“I think we grew up a lot as a team,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “The NCAA Tournament isn’t an individualized sport. We either all go or no one goes. And those guys really wanted to go. I think that every one of them gave up a little bit of what they wanted to do for what the team wanted to do. That unselfishness really helped us in the growth of our team.
“In 39 years I’ve been lucky enough to do this, I’ve never seen a team make that drastic of a change in a three, four week period. They really grew up quick and really believed in each other.”
As they did the entire tournament, Oregon got the job done on defense, holding its opponent to 61 points or fewer for the seventh time during its eight-game winning streak.
It was a near-even first half, with the sixth-seeded Ducks taking a 28-26 lead into the break, but it was all Oregon afterward. Early in the second half the Ducks took control with a 14-0 run while also forcing the Huskies to miss 13 of their first 14 second-half shots. Washington shot just .222 (6-for-27) after halftime and finished .333 overall, tying its second-lowest shooting total of the season with a March 9 loss against Oregon in the regular-season finale.
No Huskies player managed to score in double-figures, with Jaylen Nowell leading the way for UW with just eight points. Oregon also outrebounded Washington 33-24.
“I think everybody started to kind of sense that we only needed 20 more minutes of playing hard and we’d be Pac-12 champs,” Oregon senior Paul White said. “I think we really absorbed that energy really well. Coach was preaching to us about stop turning the ball over, but keep in mind that we do have the lead. As bad as we felt like we played in the first half, we still have the lead. If we cut down on those mistakes, the result should turn out well for us.”
Oregon guard Payton Pritchard flirted with a triple-double, leading the Ducks 20 points, seven assists, six rebounds, and four steals to lead the All-Tournament team as the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player. Pritchard shot 7-for-9 in Saturday’s finale and shot .548 (23-for-42) over the final three games. More importantly for the Ducks, Pritchard compiled 22 assists against just four turnovers during the tournament.
Pritchard was joined on the all-tournament team by teammate Louis King in addition to CU Buffs guard McKinley Wright. Rounding out the team was Washington’s Nowell and Matisse Thybulle, along with Arizona State forward Zylan Cheatham.
“I think everybody took care of their bodies really well (during the tournament). We had great support from our coaches and everyone else connected to our organization,” Pritchard said. “We took care of our bodies. We got sleep. We hydrated well. I think that showed game in, game out. Fatigue never really hit us.”
Oregon 68, Washington 48
At T-Mobile Arena
King 4-7 5-5 15, Pritchard 7-9 4-4 20, White 6-10 1-1 114, Wooten 2-5 0-0 4, Okoro 0-2 2-4 2, Richardson 1-3 6-6 8, Amin 0-2 2-2 2, Norris 0-0 0-0 0, Bailey 1-2 0-0 3, Osborn 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-40 20-22 68.
Crisp 2-9 0-0 5, Thybulle 2-8 0-0 0, Nowell 2-7 4-4 8, Wright 2-3 0-0 5, Dickerson 3-7 0-0 6, Bey 3-5 0-0 7. Hardy 0-1 0-0 0, Carter 1-6 3-4 5, Green 2-7 0-0 6, Timmins 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 18-54 7-8 48..
3-point field goals — Oregon 6-14 (King 2-3, Pritchard 2-4, White 1-2, Amin 0-1, Richardson 0-2, Bailey 1-2); Washington 5-23 (Crisp 1-3, Thybulle 0-4, Nowell 0-1, Wright 1-2, Bey 1-3, Hardy 0-1, Carter 0-2, Green 2-7). Rebounds — Oregon 33 (Wooten 7); Washington 24 (Dickerson 6). Assists — Oregon 11 (Pritchard 7); Washington 9 (Crisp 6). Total fouls — Oregon 15; Washington 18. Fouled out — Dickerson. A — 12,877.