LAS VEGAS - Former Oregon basketball star and current Memphis Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks sat courtside with Oregon fans surrounding him, laughing at the Duck mascot, analyzing the game and clapping when former teammate Payton Pritchard scored a bucket.
The Oregon men’s basketball team looks a lot different from the 2016-17 season, when Brooks and UO made it to the Final Four. However, the two teams share one important similarity; The Ducks won and will advance in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Oregon crushed Washington State 84-51 in the first round and will face third-seeded Utah in the quarterfinals on Thursday night. The Ducks extended their winning streak to five games and will need to win three more in as many days to be crowned as Pac-12 Tournament champions, which earns the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Winning four games in four days is a tall task that’s only been accomplished in the conference tournament once when Colorado claimed the crown as the sixth seed in 2012.
The Ducks beat the Cougars with a recipe that could prove vital for a deep tournament run; stout defense and dependable bench play.
UO’s defense continued to be excellent. The Ducks forced 20 turnovers, with 26 points off those turnovers and outrebounded the Cougars 41-33. The victory also marked the first time in the shot clock era (1985-86 to present) that Oregon has held five-consecutive opponents to less than 62 points.
Oregon held the conference's leading scorer, WSU senior Robert Franks, to only eight points. Franks was coming off a career-high 37 points against Oregon State on senior night.
Pritchard's three steals moved him to third in UO career steals with 156 total.
"The guys are being real active," coach Dana Altman said. "There is a lot more communication. They are a lot more connected, covering up mistakes for each other. I always thought we had the potential to be a good defensive team.”
UO’s bench play was outstanding, scoring 46 points. Yes, you read that correctly.
Oregon reserves lead the team; Ehab Amin scored 17 points, Will Richardson scored 10 points and Miles Norris added a career-high 14 points.
With only nine scholarship players, Oregon couldn’t fully rest its starters, but was able to limit its minutes; Not a single Duck played over 24 minutes.
Oregon’s confidence is soaring and the team is as healthy as it has been, but blowing out Washington State falls short of the Ducks' goal.
"We have to focus on Utah," senior Paul White said. "We don't get a tournament bid or anything from beating Washington State by 33. So I think right now it's about leaving this game behind us and applying it to Utah".
With postseason hopes on the line, the question remains; Will there be enough in the tank tomorrow vs. Utah and then for two more days after that? Can the Ducks repeat as Pac-12 Tournament champions for the first time since the 2015-16 season?