LOS ANGELES – When Washington State and Oregon line up for the opening tip tonight at the Staples Center, less than 100 hours will have passed since UO senior guard Tajuan Porter bowed four times to the Mac Court crowd last Saturday night.
That so-long display came with just seconds left in the Ducks’ 74-66 win over WSU, the last Pac-10 game scheduled for the venerable gym.
What did the victory earn Oregon, besides squaring its overall record at 15-15? The ability to wear white tonight, as the eighth seed in the conference tournament.
The Cougars (16-14) will wear their road uniforms and the mantle of underdogs, after finishing last in the conference for the first time since 2006.
Two of their 12 conference defeats came courtesy of the Ducks, one on New Year’s Eve in Pullman – a delay-of-game technical foul with .3 seconds left allowed Porter to tie a contest UO won in double overtime – and the most recent affair in Eugene.
The latter defeat actually gives WSU hope, albeit for a negative reason.
The Cougars clanked 36 shots off the Mac Court rims, shooting a tough-to-overcome 35.7 percent from the field. That percentage included 21 misses from beyond the arc, 10 of those coming from Klay Thompson.
“Last time, we had lots of open looks,” said Reggie Moore, the freshman point guard who was 2 of 7 against Oregon and 13 of his last 51 (25.4 percent) over the Cougars final seven games.
“I think it works to our advantage to play them again real quickly,” said DeAngelo Casto, one of the few Cougars whose offense improved in the second half of conference play. He’s converted 47 of 85 shots and improved his shooting percentage from 46.8 to 55.3.
“But playing them so quick, we won’t be so anxious,” Casto added. “Playing them quickly, after just coming off a loss, maybe plays in our favor a little bit.”
The Cougars have come off a lot of losses lately – nine in their last 11 games. Five of those defeats came down to the final few minutes, with WSU either unable to hold a big lead or overcome a large deficit despite getting close.
Thompson takes much of the blame on himself.
Though the sophomore was named to the All-Pac-10 first team this week, he’s shot just 35.7 percent from the floor in conference, hitting 37 of his 126 3-pointers (29.4 percent). Last season he shot 42.1 percent for the year, 41.2 from beyond the arc. His scoring average of 25 points per game in nonconference play dropped to 16.1 against Pac-10 foes.
Asked if the close losses ate at him, Thompson answered, “Yeah, it does. There were so many games I thought we could have won and we didn’t finish. The league was so even, it was anybody’s league.
“It’s frustrating because we beat some good teams, lost to some good teams, too, but there were definitely some teams we should have beat.”
Which goes back to putting the ball in the basket.
“We have not been very consistent” shooting, WSU coach Ken Bone said. “No doubt I feel like we are better than we’ve shown.”
But so does tonight’s opposition. The Ducks have won three of their last four, picking up their game immediately following the reported dismissal, effective at the end of the season, of coach Ernie Kent.
Kent reportedly confirmed to his team Monday he’s coaching his last games for OU. He expects the Ducks to play better than they did last Saturday night.
“I thought (WSU) missed some shots,” he said. “We gave them a lot of shots. It looked like our defense was really good, and it was at times, but there are some things we can do better.
“Offensively, we can play a lot better. We left points on the floor. We have to do a better job (tonight).”