Through 34 minutes Saturday night, Washington State freshman Blake Pengelly must have wondered why opponents dread visiting Oregon’s McArthur Court.
Many of the 10,024 in attendance had greeted Pengelly, a Eugene native, with a loud ovation when the 5-foot-9 point guard entered the game.
Pengelly even had his own cheering section, a courtside gathering of about 25 that went wild every time he made a play.
Better yet, WSU was matching the Ducks shot for shot.
Then came the final 6 minutes, when the Cougars seemingly couldn’t get a rebound, couldn’t make a shot, couldn’t keep from turning the ball over - and couldn’t keep Oregon from pulling away for a 93-82 victory.
“It definitely hurts to lose,” Pengelly said, “but it was a lot better than it could have been.”
For WSU now 11-11 overall and 3-8 in the Pacific-10 Conference - it was a defeat tempered by valiance.
“This is the most proud I have ever been of a team that I’ve either head-coached or been an assistant on in my 20 years,” coach Kevin Eastman said, mindful of the pregame dismissal of senior forward Tavares Mack. “The effort was unbelievable - just unbelievable.
“You can have the feeling of disappointment, yet pride. Oregon had the potential to just pound us, but we fought and fought and fought and fought.”
And fought some more.
The Cougars trailed 78-69 with 5:02 left after a 9-0 Oregon run, but WSU only upped its aggressiveness. They made 9 of 10 free throws over the next 2:15, trimming the deficit to 82-78.
But the effort was wasted by a series of mistakes, including two involving senior forward Cameron Johnson, as Oregon scored six straight points.
Johnson missed an open 15-footer after Pengelly, fearful of getting his shot blocked, passed up a reverse layup. Oregon point guard Kenya Wilkins followed with a pair of free throws, stretching the lead to 84-78.
Plenty of time remained for a comeback, but Johnson compounded WSU’s predicament by attempting a crosscourt pass on the ensuing possession. Oregon’s Rob Ramaker intercepted, and the Ducks put the game away by making 9 of 12 free throws in the final 1:31.
“We threw the ball away on a key possession,” Eastman lamented, “and that just can’t happen - especially by a senior. But it did, and we suffered.”
The Cougars also suffered under the basket - Oregon outrebounded WSU 20-8 in the second half, capitalizing on a size advantage only heightened by Mack’s absence.
The Cougars stayed close by making 28 of 33 free throws, including 17 of 19 in the second half.
Wilkins led the Ducks (14-6, 5-6) with a season-high 24 points, making the most of his quickness advantage when Pengelly (nine points, no turnovers) was out of the lineup.
WSU guard Isaac Fontaine scored 25 points despite a bum right ankle, but didn’t get the ball enough in the final minutes.
Fontaine scored just eight points in the second half, in part because Jamar Curry played better defense.
“We were trying to get the ball in my hands late and try to get to the free-throw line,” Fontaine said, “but it just didn’t work out that way.”
Carlos Daniel picked up some of the slack, making 7 of 8 second-half free throws. He finished with 19 points and eight rebounds.
Rodrigo de la Fuente also played well for WSU. In addition to helping limit Curry to 2-for-10 shooting, the 6-7 junior had 13 points, four rebounds and four assists.
Oregon 93, Washington St. 82
Washington St. (11-11) - de la Fuente 5-12 1-1 13, Daniel 5-9 9-11 19, Johnson 1-5 4-4 6, Jackson 1-3 2-2 4, Fontaine 8-15 6-8 25, Pengelly 2-3 4-4 9, Archibald 0-1 2-2 2, Crosby 1-2 0-0 2, Slotemaker 1-2 0-1 2. Totals 24-52 28-33 82.
Oregon (14-6) - Milling 3-5 9-10 15, Curry 2-10 0-0 5, Ramaker 4-4 2-4 10, Wilkins 7-11 8-10 24, Lawrence 3-9 4-5 11, Madden 4-8 3-4 11, Larry 1-5 0-0 2, Brown 3-8 0-0 8, McShane 1-1 0-0 3, Nelson 1-1 0-2 2, Carson 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 30-63 26-35 93.
Halftime-Washington St. 41, Oregon 41. 3-Point goals-Washington St. 6-14 (Fontaine 3-7, de la Fuente 2-3, Pengelly 1-2, Archibald 0-1, Crosby 0-1), Oregon 7-19 (Wilkins 2-3, Brown 2-4, McShane 1-1, Curry 1-3, Lawrence 1-5, Madden 0-1, Larry 0-2). Fouled out- Daniel. Rebounds-Washington St. 27 (Daniel 8), Oregon 39 (Milling 10). Assists- Washington St. 17 (de la Fuente 4), Oregon 20 (Wilkins, Madden 4). Total fouls- Washington St. 27, Oregon 24. A-10,024.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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