It’s late, so we’re just going to post the long version of our story that will appear in tomorrow’s S-R. Read on.
LOS ANGELES – Once a formula works, why mess with it?
Washington State didn’t Wednesday night and the result was a 62-40 victory over Oregon in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament before 10,964 at the Staples Center.
The win, WSU’s third this season over the 8-23 Ducks, boosted the Cougars into tonight’s quarterfinal matchup with 15th-ranked UCLA. The Cougars (17-14) split with the Bruins during the regular season, winning in Los Angeles three weeks ago.
WSU earned the rubber match by defending tenaciously and executing offensively, the same recipe that cooked the Ducks in the regular season.
“A scrappy team, they want to get out, they want to get hot, they want to get fiery,” said Washington State senior guard Taylor Rochestie, who was honored as the Pac-10’s scholar athlete before the game.
“We’ve got to do what we can to slow that down.”
They did, for a third time.
Oregon, the Pac-10’s worst shooting team, hit just 26 percent from the floor. The Ducks were firing up 3-pointers at every opportunity but hit only 7 of the 28 they took, including 3 of their first 13.
“We got to shooters,” WSU coach Tony Bennett said of his team’s defense. “I think Taylor did a good job on (Tajuan) Porter, getting to him. It was important because they can get it going.”
On offense, the Cougars went the other way, working the inside, with most of their 43 shots coming from within the key. The main weapon was 6-foot-10 senior center Aron Baynes.
Baynes, who had 30 points in the two regular season games with the Ducks, added 20 and eight rebounds in this one, converting 7 of 8 from the floor and all six free throws.
“(I) thought Aron did a great job getting deep post position,” Bennett said. “We looked to him and he was very effective.”
Power forward Caleb Forrest added 14 points and reserve DeAngelo Casto chipped in 10 as WSU had 28 points in the paint. Baynes, Forrest and Casto were a combined 17 of 20 from the field.
“We thought we had an advantage, so that was definitely a point of emphasis to pound it inside,” Bennett said.
The inside-first attack worked so well it didn’t matter that the Cougars missed all six of their 3-point attempts, the first time they’ve been shut out beyond the arc since Feb. 9, 2006 against UCLA.
“We felt the last one or two games we haven’t been getting the ball inside enough,” said Rochestie, who finished with a season-low four points on 1 of 5 shooting, though he had six assists and just one turnover. “The best attack is an inside-outside attack.”
It was against the Ducks, who matched two freshmen – 6-8 Josh Crittle and 6-10 Michael Dunigan – against Baynes.
“We knew if I could get the ball in there, it would start opening the guards,” Baynes said. “They all got me the ball in a perfect position. All I had to do, really, was go up there and put it in.”
Tajuan Porter was about Oregon’s only offensive threat, hitting five 3-pointers and leading UO with 20 points. No other Duck had more than six.
“He’s so good,” Rochestie said. “The worst thing about him is, as soon as you rest, as soon as he passes the ball, he’s coming off another screen and there he comes again for a shot.”
He took 16 of them, hitting six, while playing 36 minutes.
Rochestie played 35, but no other Cougar played more than 30, with most of them resting after Casto sealed the deal with a monster fastbreak dunk off a pass from Forrest with 4 minutes, 4 seconds left. That made it 60-37 and the thoughts turned to tonight’s opponent, UCLA.
“That provides quite a challenge,” Bennett said. “It’s where we wanted to be, so we’ll take it.”
The Cougars had defeated Oregon twice during the regular season (and now have a six-game winning streak in the series), including a 67-38 blowout in Pullman less than a month ago. In that one, the Ducks struggled from the field, scoring a season-low 15 points in the first half and shooting 20.8 percent from the floor, also a season-worst.
The Ducks’ first-half struggles against WSU continued – UO had just 17 first-half points in the first matchup in Eugene – with Oregon hitting 8 of 25 shots. But that 32 percent effort was the best the Ducks had in the three games. As were their 22 points.
But WSU was shooting well again – the Cougars came in having hit half their shots against Oregon – mostly because many of their 23 first-half shots came within 10 feet of the basket.
Baynes had six of them, hitting five and going into the locker room with 14 points. The inside nature of WSU’s attack was evident in the number of 3-pointers the Cougars attempted: one. Rochestie missed it.
The Ducks were going the other way, with 16 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes.
There was a lot going on, even before the tip and the Cougars’ quick 12-4 lead.
Rochestie was honored at halfcourt as the Pac-10’s scholar-athlete of the year, an award won last year by WSU’s Robbie Cowgill. And Oregon coach Ernie Kent went out of his way, and into the stands, before the game to shake hands with former Cougar coach Dick Bennett.
Senior forward Daven Harmeling, who missed the Washington defeat last week with a sprained right shoulder, had it taped and suited up but did not play.
• That’s it for now. We’ll be back in the morning with links. And, of course, we’ll be back again before the UCLA game. Until then …