After rallying from 19 down, the Washington State Cougars just quite couldn’t complete an all-time comeback against the Oregon Ducks. The Ducks closed on a 7-0 run in the final minutes to steal a 75-70 win in the Pac-12 quarterfinals.
WSU (17-16) allowed Oregon (19-13) run out to a 19 point lead in the first half. The Cougars began to storm back with a late run to end the first half and carried momentum into the second. WSU got a lead up to three with 4:15 remaining, but the Ducks stifled the Cougars in the final three and a half minutes to regain, and hold on to the lead, advancing them to the Pac-12 semi-finals.
Oregon was revved up and ready to go right from tip-off. WSU struggled to contain the Ducks offensive assault with the Ducks getting everything to fall from downtown and attacking the rim at will to jump out to a 10 point lead in the first nine minutes of action.
With the game in jeopardy of escaping the Cougars early on, Kyle Smith went to his bench looking to find somebody to light a spark. As the Cougars filtered guys in and out, the Ducks continued to pour it on, growing the lead up to 19 and leaving WSU with no answer on either end. Looking for any sort of momentum before the halftime break, Carlos Rosario seemed to light a fire under the Cougs with a three to cut the lead down to 13. T.J. Bamba added on with a jumper and Andrej Jakimovski knocked home a big three and all of sudden, the Cougs only trailed by eight heading into half.
Riding high off the late first half run, WSU kept things rolling with a 7-3 run to open the second half. The Ducks punches were finally being countered by the Cougars. For every bucket Oregon scored, the Cougars had one or two to answer. Jakimovski cut the lead down to one with a transition three, opening himself up with a beautiful ball fake. Jermaine Couisnard rebuilt the lead back to five with a quartet of free throws, but Justin Powell reeled it right back within range with a trey. Bamba gave WSU their first lead of the game with the teams’ sixth three of the second half.
TJ Bamba for the lead! The Cougs are on top after trailing by 19 points in the first half and #WAZZU is cookin'— WSU Men's Basketball (@WSUCougarMBB) March 10, 2023
️ @Pac12Network #GoCougs #WAZZU pic.twitter.com/GI9exeKkik
What once looked to be on track for a blowout loss, became a back-and-forth affair with the lead changing hands four times over the next five minutes. After Oregon tied the game with four minutes to go, Mouhamed Gueye threw down a dunk to push WSU back on top by two. Keeshawn Barthelemy tied it right back up with a bucket inside after the Ducks reeled in an offensive rebound. Oregon scored again after another N’faly Dante offensive rebound, putting it back up and in to give Oregon the lead. With WSU trailing by two and less than 40 seconds to go, Powell rolled off a high ball screen from Gueye and looked to attack the basket. Powell rose up but was denied on N’faly. The Cougars were forced to foul with the shot clock turned off to keep the game alive. Barthelemy hit the first but missed the second free throw, giving WSU life down three with 27 seconds to go.
On the next possession, Bamba was ripped of the ball by the Ducks and Rivaldo Soares looked to have a wide-open game sealing dunk, but was rejected by D.J. Rodman at the last second. Oregon struggled to get the ball in twice after the block, eventually getting it into Soares on the third attempt after two timeouts. Soares calmly knocked down his two free throws to send Oregon to the semi-finals to face the UCLA Bruins.
The NIT seems very likely for WSU, but the Cougars will wait till Sunday for the official bracket to be revealed.