A week ago the Oregon Ducks struggled to score 55 points in a home win over Stephen F. Austin.
Twenty-five seconds into the second half Thursday night, the Ducks blew past that number en route to a dissection of Washington State and its defense, 92-75, in the Pac-12 men’s basketball opener for both.
“That first half, they really put on a clinic,” said WSU coach Ken Bone. “They moved the ball, they moved it quickly, they scored inside, then they scored outside.”
“That first half,” said Oregon coach Dana Altman of the 20 minutes that saw Oregon lead 54-34, “was about as good as we can play.”
And it was as bad as Washington State’s defense has played in, well, in eight years and one day. That’s when Gonzaga carved up the Cougars, 96-58, in the old Kennel, shooting 70 percent in the process.
Oregon (10-3) only shot 69.4 percent in this one – the Ducks, shooting 44.6 percent coming in, hit just two of every three second-half shots – after hitting 22 of its first 30 attempts, an unheard of 73.3 percent.
But not unexpected, not if you play defense the way the Cougars were playing it.
“They did what they wanted to do,” said fifth-year senior Abe Lodwick, shaking his head. “When they have the opportunity to do that, they’re going to put up those kind of points and make you look bad.”
“There were times when there was no real pressure, especially on those dunks and layups,” Bone admitted.
Most of those dunks and layups came from an unusual source, at least early on.
Though E.J. Singler scored seven of the Ducks’ first nine points, finishing with 13, and Minnesota transfer Devoe Joseph pumped in 10 after halftime to finish with 17 points and seven assists, neither had the first-half impact of Olu Ashaolu.
The 6-foot-7 backup post came in averaging 7.1 points, with a season-high of 13 against UTEP. He passed that total with 6 minutes left before halftime.
“He was very good,” Bone said of the senior who played at Louisiana Tech last season before graduating and transferring to join former AAU teammate Joseph in Eugene.
“He benefited from us trying to concentrate on their shooters, and before you know it, as we were trying to help … he had a lot of easy looks.”
Ashaolu finished with 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting. If not for a 5-of-12 night from the free-throw line, he could have surpassed his career high of 26 from his Tech days.
“That’s by far his best game,” Altman said. “That first half his athleticism was the difference.”
Though that’s not where the Cougars pointed the finger after dropping to 8-5 overall.
“They played good,” said Marcus Capers, who fouled out with four minutes left. “We played bad.”
Bone went into a little more detail, saying he thought WSU’s first half-offensive struggles carried over to the defensive end, something “that just can’t happen.”
Only one Cougar had anything going in the first half and that was freshman DaVonté Lacy, who hit five 3-pointers and had 15 points. He finished with a career-high 19, fouling out less than a minute after Capers.
“Everybody has those nights,” Lacy said, deflecting any praise, “but they were feeling it the whole night, so that overshadowed it.”
And forced the Cougars to head into Saturday’s 3 p.m. game with Oregon State hoping for a conference-opening weekend split.
“I think it’s good to hold on to the pain of a loss for just a little bit, I think that’s healthy,” Lodwick said. “By the end of the night, you need to turn the page. By the next morning, we’ve got to be ready to go because we’ve got a game on Saturday.”
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