LAS VEGAS — Oregon will keep its annual Thursday reservation at the Pac-12 Tournament.
The sixth-seeded Ducks are in the quarterfinals for the 10th year in a row after beating Washington State 84-51 Wednesday night in the first round at T-Mobile Arena. It was the largest margin of victory in the history of the tournament.
After WSU’s CJ Elleby opened the game with a 3-pointer, Oregon scored the next 18 points and was never threatened as it advanced to face third-seeded Utah (17-13) at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
“That’s a great accomplishment, but it is only one win,” UO senior Paul White said. “Going forward, we have to focus on Utah. We don’t get an NCAA Tournament bid just from beating Washington State by 33. Now it is about leaving this game behind us and going forward to apply it to Utah.”
WSU went more than nine minutes without scoring in the first half and committed 16 turnovers before halftime that led to 21 Oregon points as the Ducks took a 37-20 lead into the break.
Will Richardson opened the second half with a three-point play to double up the Cougars before Payton Pritchard and White followed with 3-pointers to put Oregon ahead 46-20.
That allowed UO coach Dana Altman to manage the minutes however he wanted the rest of the way to begin what he hopes is a four-day run at the tournament. No Oregon player spent more than 24 minutes on the floor as all five starters were on the bench for the final three minutes.
“It does help when you don’t have to play guys for 35 minutes,” Altman said. “We got some nerves out and still had enough energy. We did not play anyone too many minutes so hopefully that will help us tomorrow night.”
Ehab Amin came off the bench to lead the Ducks with 17 points on 5-for-7 shooting while Miles Norris had a career-high 14 points. Louis King had 12 points and seven rebounds while Richardson added 10 points and five assists.
Francis Okoro had eight points and eight rebounds as Oregon shot 49.3 percent from the field and outrebounded the Cougars 41-33.
Oregon (20-12) continued to rely on a stingy defense by holding a fifth straight opponent to less than 62 points for the first time since 1984-85.
“Coach has been emphasizing communication on defense and rebounding and how that travels on the road,” Amin said. “The key for us is helping each other out. If somebody messes up, we make up for it by playing hard throughout the possession.”
WSU shot 30.8 percent from the field and finished with 20 turnovers. King, Pritchard and Victor Bailey each had three steals as Oregon finished with 14, three shy of the school’s single-game record.
WSU senior Robert Franks, who led the conference with 22.1 points per game in the regular season, was 2-for-9 from the field while missing all six 3-point attempts to finish with eight points.
“A player like that, you can’t allow them to breathe,” White said of Franks. “He’s a great player, first-team all-conference, but with those kinds of accolades comes that attention and we gave a lot of attention to him.”
Oregon missed its first five shots before Okoro scored to begin the stretch of 18 straight points for the Ducks.
King followed with a basket to put Oregon up 4-3 and Richardson added a 3-pointer. White scored on a breakaway and Pritchard added a hoop before Amin made a 3-pointer to put Oregon ahead 14-3.
King fed Kenny Wooten for a dunk and Pritchard scored to put Oregon ahead 18-3 before WSU ended a scoring drought of 9:10 with two free throws from Marvin Cannon.
Amin followed with a free throw for the Ducks and then converted a three-point play. Richardson scored four straight points to put Oregon up 26-8 before White scored again.
Amin hit a 3-pointer and Okoro scored inside before Miles Norris dunked to put Oregon ahead 35-15 as the Ducks cruised into a quarterfinal meeting with Utah for the second year in a row. Oregon won 78-72 at Utah on Jan. 31 in the only meeting this season between the two teams.
“They will be a big challenge for us,” Altman said. “They will be a little fresher than us, playing the late game is always a concern. We need to get back and try to get some sleep. Utah scores so easily that they will challenge our defense and that is what we have been living on for the last few weeks.”