LAS VEGAS – A Justin Bieber concert is the next major event scheduled for the MGM Grand Garden Arena once the Pac-12 Conference basketball tournament concludes. The Beebs better bring his A game if he expects to top the Thursday afternoon performance of the Oregon Ducks and Washington Huskies.
Two supremely athletic teams treated a sellout crowd to an endless array of thunderous dunks, blistering fastbreaks, dazzling passes and battering-ram blocked shots. The Huskies started fast and led most of the first half, but eighth-ranked Oregon rallied to lead by one at intermission, then held on for an 83-77 victory (box) in the quarterfinals.
“We knew it was going to be a 40-minute fight,” Oregon forward Chris Boucher said.
“A really good atmosphere,” Washington freshman guard Dejounte Murray sid. “Two really good teams, at both ends. Oregon is a really good team, potentially a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.”
The Ducks (26-6) were already a lock for the NCAA tourney. The Huskies (18-14) hope to play in the NIT. The brackets for both tournaments will be announced Sunday.
“I would love to play in the NIT,” Washington senior guard Andrew Andrews said.
Obviously, Andrews’ comment is accompanied by an asterisk, since the Huskies were aiming for the NCAAs.
“I think we needed one more big win on our resume” to crack the NCAA field, Andrews said.
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar and Andrews stressed that the Huskies are proud of what they have accomplished. Washington has started three or four of their seven freshmen all year. The Huskies tied for sixth in the highly competitive Pac-12 after being picked to finish 11th in the preseason media poll.
“In our locker room, we don’t take this as a failure,” Andrews said. “I think we shocked a lot of people and did things people said we couldn’t, especially with pretty much an all-freshman team.”
Andrews, Washington’s only senior, scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half. Rival point guard Casey Benson and others applied plenty of defensive pressure on Andrews, the Pac-12 scoring leader. Andrews said some of that pressure was a bit shady.
“It’s easy to defend somebody when they can hold ‘em and hack ‘em and wrestle ‘em,” Andrews said. “In the second half, the refs started calling it a little tighter.”
Freshman forward Marquese Chriss scored 19 points to tie Andrews, Boucher and Oregon forward Elgin Cook for game honors. The Ducks hammered the smaller, younger Huskies 46-33 on the glass, including 17-8 on the offensive end.
“Our effort on the boards, I think was the difference in the game,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said.
“We have to have better box-outs,” said Chriss, who had two offensive rebounds and five total.
Boucher, a lean, 6-foot-10 native of Montreal, notched seven of his game-high 11 rebounds off the offensive glass for the top-seeded Ducks. Boucher also matched the game-high three blocked shots of Chriss.
“He’s long,” Chriss said, “and he can jump for a big man.”
Chriss turned in two strong performances at the tournament, but he blew a dunk that would have tied the game with about a minute left. He also missed a 3-pointer that would have cut Oregon’s lead down to one with 19 seconds remaining.
Both teams were careless with the ball at times and finished with 14 turnovers. Ten of Washington’s turnovers came in the second half. Andrews had three of his game-high six turnovers in the final half.
The Huskies benefited from a strong first half by reserve guard David Crisp, who played with Murray at Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School. Crisp sank just 6 of 35 3-pointers (17.1 percent) over the previous 11 games, but the freshman buried 3 of 4 treys in the first half, when he scored all of his 11 points.
“I know when I hit shots, I give us a spark, give us energy,” Crisp said.
Crisp hopes he’ll get the opportunity to provide more energy to the team this season.
“We had an incredible season,” Andrews said.
“I wouldn’t think we’re done playing basketball this year,” Romar said.
Murray filled the stats sheet in both of Washington’s tournament games. Thursday, he piled up 13 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals . . . Murray and Chriss, projected by ESPN to go in the first round of the NBA draft if they decide to turn pro this year, had identical responses when asked what they’re going to do: “I haven’t decided.” . . . Washington’s Malik Dime produced 13 points and seven rebounds, but he failed to block a shot for only the third time this season (including losses in both games with Oregon). Dime is tied with Robert Upshaw for the school record of 85 blocks in a season . . . The Ducks have applied to the NCAA to try to obtain another year of eligibility for Boucher, who is listed as a senior. Boucher, a relative newcomer to basketball, struggled academically while growing up in a rough section of Montreal. He was noncommittal when asked if he would turn pro or return to Oregon if he’s ruled eligible . . . Most of the 12,916 seats were filled for the noon contest.