Washington rolls past Oregon, into Pac-10 final
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) – The Hollywood spotlight that shines on the Pac-10 tournament must bring out the showtime in Isaiah Thomas and his fellow Washington Huskies, who are one game away from another championship.
C.J. Wilcox scored 14 points, freshman Terrence Ross had 13 in his second career start, and Washington finally shook Oregon to advance to the Pac-10 title game with a 69-51 victory Friday night.
Thomas had 10 points and a tournament record-tying 12 assists in another peerless playmaking game for the third-seeded Huskies, who will attempt to defend their 2010 crown against top-seeded Arizona on Saturday at Staples Center.
Thomas, the Most Outstanding Player in last season’s tournament, highlighted a night of stellar distribution against the Ducks with alley-oops to the athletic Ross and Justin Holiday, who scored seven points.
“When you’re getting assists, it feels like every pass is open,” said Thomas, who has 23 assists in Washington’s two tournament games. “My guys do a good job just getting open and knocking down shots and finishing at the rim.”
The Huskies (22-10) led throughout the final 37 minutes with balanced offense and a tough zone defense, but they didn’t pull away until scoring eight consecutive points down the stretch, a rally highlighted by Wilcox’s four-point play with 3:58 to go. Washington finished the game on a 14-4 run.
“For the second game in a row, we had a team contribution,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said after seven Huskies scored at least six points. “That’s something that can make you really excited as coaches, when everyone chips in and does a great job for you.”
Scott Suggs had 10 points and Darnell Gant added eight for the Huskies, who stumbled into the Pac-10 tournament with three losses in their last five games – but at least with Thomas running the show, Washington has a knack for tournament theatrics.
Washington won three straight games in last year’s conference tournament at Staples during a March surge that ended in the NCAA regional semifinals. The Huskies also love L.A.: They’ve won seven straight games down here, sweeping their regular-season visits to UCLA and Southern California.
“We’ve just got to stay focused and be prepared,” Ross said. “And if we have trouble, we just have to remember how we handled it tonight.”
Joevan Catron had 18 points and nine rebounds for seventh-seeded Oregon (16-17), which finally ran out of steam late in its third game in three nights. Malcolm Armstead added 12 points for the Ducks, who reached their first semifinal since 2007 by knocking off second-seeded UCLA one night earlier.
“That’s a convenient excuse,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said of the Ducks’ heavier schedule. “We just didn’t get it done. We just didn’t make the plays we had to. Our movement wasn’t very good offensively, so we couldn’t get a flow going.”
Oregon finished seventh in the conference standings and lost its final four regular-season games, but rolled into the semifinals with victories over last-place Arizona State and UCLA, which couldn’t keep up in the Ducks’ 76-59 win.
Washington reached the semifinals Thursday with a thrilling victory over Washington State despite Pac-10 scoring leader Klay Thompson’s tourney-record 43 points.
The Huskies split their regular-season series with Arizona, blowing out the Wildcats in Seattle before losing a one-point thriller in Tucson last month. Arizona beat USC earlier Friday.
“We want some revenge,” Thomas said. “They’re a great team, and we’ll be ready for them.”
Washington took the lead for good just 2 1/2 minutes in, using a zone defense that forced seven turnovers – one fewer than Oregon had in its entire quarterfinal victory over UCLA. While Oregon relied heavily on jumpers and didn’t even take its first free throws until 9.4 seconds remained in the first half, Suggs scored eight points without missing a shot, leading the Huskies to a 30-21 halftime lead.
The Huskies returned from the break with a 9-4 run, going up 39-25 when Holiday made a steal and hit Gant for a layup with 17:42 to play. Oregon clawed back into it with 10 consecutive points midway through the half, holding the Huskies without a field goal for 5 1/2 minutes. Catron scored five points in the run, trimming Washington’s lead to 44-40.
Washington is playing without backup point guard Venoy Overton, who is suspended for the tournament. Thomas, who passed Overton on Washington’s career assists list Friday night, played 40 minutes against Washington State and 38 more against the Ducks, but the junior says he isn’t tired.
“We have another opportunity to win a Pac-10 championship,” Thomas said. “We just need to be ready for them.”