LOS ANGELES – It is hard to defeat a team three times in a season. But it can be done. It just might take some extra time.
And Tajuan Porter.
The University of Oregon senior guard made sure his coach, Ernie Kent, coached another game, scoring 32 points – including eight in overtime – and leading the Ducks past Washington State University 82-80 Wednesday before 6,090 at Staples Center.
The first-round, Pac-10 basketball tournament victory moved eighth-seeded Oregon (16-15) into today’s 2:30 p.m. game with regular-season champion California. The loss more than likely ended WSU’s season at 16-15, though school officials say a postseason tournament is still a possibility.
Porter’s overtime heroics – and a game-tying tip-in by freshman E.J. Singler in the last one-tenth of a second in regulation – made moot a Washington State comeback that could have led to victory – if the Cougars had hit their free throws.
The Cougars trailed 62-52 with 7 minutes, 27 seconds remaining, a deficit the Ducks had built early in the half.
Klay Thompson ignited the Cougars’ rally with back-to-back 3-pointers, the latter from about 27 feet. The sophomore finished with 20 points, hitting 6 of 9 from beyond the arc.
A little more than a minute later, Nik Koprivica matched the two long shots with two of his own, the latter giving WSU a 69-68 lead, its first since a 13-0 Oregon first-half run.
When UO’s Malcolm Armstead challenged DeAngelo Casto on the other end, the sophomore center rejected the shot. Koprivica hustled to the corner, gathered it in and tossed it out to Marcus Capers.
Capers finished the 19-6 run with a dunk, part of his career-high 16 points on a career-high 14 attempts.
But with 2:43 left in regulation, the Cougars ran dry.
First Koprivica missed the front-end of a 1-and-1 with 1:20 on the clock. Then freshman point guard Reggie Moore, an 80 percent free-throw shooter, did the same 33 seconds later.
WSU finished 12 for 25 from the free-throw line, with Casto, who finished with 13 points and seven offensive rebounds, missing 8 of 13 attempts.
“Our free throws really hurt us,” WSU coach Ken Bone said. “In a tight game like that, you can’t shoot that poorly and expect to win.”
Porter pulled Oregon within one with two free throws – he was 5 of 5 and Oregon was perfect on 10 attempts – before Moore finally hit one. With 7.6 seconds left, Moore missed the back end and Capers knocked it out of bounds.
The Ducks got the ball to Porter with 5.5 seconds left, and he raced up court, getting deep into the key. Casto challenged the shot – he had four blocks – and it missed. But Singler, who passed the ball in, rose above the Cougars and tipped it in just as the buzzer sounded for his 11th point.
“We miss free throws when we’ve got to make them, we don’t get defensive rebounds, and then they just hit that shot at the end,” Koprivica said. “You can’t even call it a shot. Somebody touches it and it goes in. It’s so unlucky. But it’s basketball.”
In the overtime, Porter scored all but two of Oregon’s points, winning a loose ball and hitting a drive off the tip, nailing jumpers from 10 and 12 feet, then hitting two free throws with 35 seconds remaining for a two-point lead.
The Cougars had one last chance but, after a timeout with 16.7 left, Moore couldn’t find anyone and finally tried to create with 5 seconds left. His jumper from the top of the key was wide left, and Oregon had moved on.
“Do you know how many overtime games we’ve had with Washington State over the years?” asked Oregon coach Ernie Kent, probably facing WSU for last time as his tenure in Eugene will end with the Ducks’ season. “What else would you expect?”
What you wouldn’t expect is the Cougars hitting 10 of 21 3-point shots, getting 19 offensive rebounds, forcing 16 turnovers and still losing.
“Definitely (tough way to go out),” Koprivica said. “It’s just going to leave a bad taste in my mouth because I don’t know how many times we basically beat ourselves.”
Besides the poor showing at the free-throw line, WSU also had 17 turnovers, 12 in the first half that helped the Ducks to a 37-32 halftime lead.
“A lot of the turnovers ended up being really costly,” Bone said.
Only a surprising 14 points and five rebounds – both career bests – from little-used Brock Motum kept the Cougars close. Add it all up and WSU has 10 losses in its last 12 games, four consecutive to end the season. But the school is still trying to gain admittance to the College Basketball Invitational, one of the newer postseason tournament.
Bone said the Cougars would continue to practice the rest of the week until a decision was made.
Oregon 82, WSU 80 (OT)
Percentages: FG .460, FT .480. 3-Point Goals: 10-21, .476 (Thompson 6-9, Koprivica 2-4, Motum 1-2, Moore 1-5, Harthun 0-1). Team Rebounds: 0. Blocked Shots: 5 (Casto 4). Turnovers: 17 (Thompson 5). Steals: 6 (Casto, Moore 2). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .508, FT 1.00. 3-Point Goals: 6-16, .375 (Porter 3-10, Humphrey 1-1, Williams 1-1, Singler 1-3, Armstead 0-1). Team Rebounds: 0. Blocked Shots: 1 (Williams). Turnovers: 16 (Armstead 4). Steals: 8 (Armstead 3). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime–Oregon 37, Washington State 32. A–NA.