I haven’t covered every Pac-12 tournament game ever played in Sin City, but I feel confident in saying there haven’t been many halves poorer than the one Washington State played Wednesday night.
The Cougars committed 16 turnovers. They went 10 1/2 minutes without making a field goal. They scored 20 points and trailed Oregon by 17 at half.
Ernie Kent, it’s been real.
I don’t know anyone in Eugene who wishes ill upon Oregon’s former coach, but if Kent is coaching in this tournament next year, it won’t be because he’s done anything to warrant optimism in his five seasons at Washington State.
Hey, it’s not just the Cougars who have a decision to make. Of the four coaches who went home Wednesday — Kent, Arizona’s Sean Miller, Cal’s Wyking Jones and Stanford’s Jerod Haase — does anyone want to place a bet on how many will be back next season?
Not sure, but I’d set the over/under at two.
As we feared might happen, Wednesday’s Pac-12 Tournament games were basically a continuation of what we saw during the regular season. In two games featuring Washington State and Stanford, I watched shots bounce off the rim at angles and trajectories I’ve never seen before. It was not an artful display.
Then there’s Oregon. The Ducks did nothing to dispel the notion that they’re the most dangerous team in this bracket, demolishing the Cougars 84-51 and advancing to face third-seeded Utah on Thursday night.
“I thought Oregon was just exceptional,” Kent said. “People have talked about them being the hottest team in the league. When we played them at our place, you could feel that change in them.”
The Ducks are dangerous, first and foremost, because of their defense, which has been outstanding during this five-game winning streak.
During that stretch, the Ducks are holding their opponents to 34 percent shooting, 24 percent from 3-point range and an average of 51.4 points per game. The emergence of freshman Francis Okoro has made Oregon stronger, longer and tougher inside, and the Ducks look like they’ve finally figured out how to play hard on every possession.
“With our length, I always thought we’d be a good defensive team, but we hadn’t shown that a number of times until the last two, three weeks,” coach Dana Altman said. “Our guys have made a big leap. We’re so much more connected. Our communication is so much better.”
Not all of Washington State’s turnovers can be attributed to great defense on the Ducks’ part. Watching the Cougars trying to execute their offense, you were reminded of a frightened walk-on quarterback trying to throw passes into the teeth of a blitz.
I’m pretty sure Mike Leach could have drawn up a more effective offense than whatever Washington State was trying to run. Kent watched most of the game with the same impassive expression, drawing the ridicule of a handful of hecklers behind press row.
“Ernie, coach these kids!” one of them shouted. “Do something!”
Isn’t that Willie Taggart’s line?
Doesn’t matter. No amount of yelling, prodding or cajoling would have made this game competitive. The Ducks are playing at a higher level than anyone else in the conference right now, and it’s going to take someone’s best shot to knock them out.
Dillon Brooks, the star of the Ducks’ back-to-back Pac-12 title teams, watched from the behind the bench Wednesday night. I have to think he liked what he saw. Because when the Ducks had things rolling, this is how they used to play: fast, flying around the court, crashing the glass and swatting shots into the stands.
Oregon’s quarterfinal against Utah should be entertaining. The Utes are the Pac-12’s most efficient offensive team, and they shoot 3-pointers at a red-hot clip. Oregon’s rejuvenated defense will be getting its toughest test yet.
As well as Oregon is playing, the Ducks won’t get any special dispensation for playing a lousy team and winning by the largest margin in the history of the Pac-12 Tournament. They’ll need three more of these before anyone is talking about them as a team that belongs in the NCAA Tournament.
“We don’t end up getting a tournament bid or anything just by beating Washington State by 33,” senior Paul White said.
He’s right. They don’t.
But they just got one step closer.