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Washington State opens Pac-12 Tournament against Oregon, seeking first win since 2009

Oregon’s MiKyle McIntosh (22), Keith Smith, right,  and Payton Pritchard, back center, battle for a rebound against Washington State’s Drick Bernstine  and Viont’e Daniels  during last Thursday’s  game in Pullman. (Young Kwak / Associated Press)

LAS VEGAS – Ernie Kent had a courtside view of Washington State’s most recent victory in the Pac-12 Tournament in 2009. He was on the sideline. Well, a sideline. Not the Cougars’.

The conference was still three years from expansion, Kent’s tenure at Oregon was winding down, WSU had seen mixed results in Tony Bennett’s third season and the seventh-seeded Cougars drew the 10th-seeded Ducks in a Pac-10 Tournament opener at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Aron Baynes scored 20 points, DeAngelo Casto and Caleb Forrest accounted for another 24 and the Cougars blitzed Kent’s Ducks 62-40 in a game they led from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

Kent’s witnessed a Washington State victory in the conference tournament. Now he’d like to take credit for one.

The 11th-seeded Cougars (12-18) will try to end their nine-year conference tournament drought Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas when they go toe-to-toe with the sixth-seeded Ducks (20-11) at 8:30 p.m. The Pac-12 Networks will air the first-round matchup.

Kent has had scattered success against the Oregon program he was responsible for rebuilding in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Cougars staved off the Ducks in 2015, winning a 108-99 overtime thriller in Pullman, but they lost Kent’s first Eugene homecoming later that season and dropped the next three to Oregon by an average of 19.6 points. WSU outlasted the Ducks 78-76 on the Palouse last Thursday, improving Kent’s record against his UO successor, Dana Altman, to 2-4.

Oregon is led by three All-Pac-12 performers: sophomore point guard Payton Pritchard, an all-conference second-teamer; freshman forward Kenny Wooten, an all-defensive team selection; and Troy Brown, an all-freshman honorable mention selection. Pritchard and Brown combine for more than 26 points per game. Wooten, a defensive standout, leads the conference with 87 blocks.

WSU junior forward Robert Franks was recently named the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player and earned all-league honorable mention. Franks finished the regular season seventh in the Pac-12 with 17.4 ppg, but he might be only the second Cougar on Altman’s scouting report.

Sophomore point guard Malachi Flynn went on a tear toward the end of the season, scoring 133 points in the final seven games, including 28 against the Ducks last Thursday. Flynn also led the game in rebounds (eight), assists (five) and steals (four).