Ducks Clinch First-Round Bye Despite Loss Thursday To Buffs

EUGENE, Ore. —Despite a 79-75 loss to Colorado in Matthew Knight Arena on Thursday, the Oregon men’s basketball team clinched a first-round bye into next week’s Pac-12 Conference Tournament in Las Vegas.

Late defensive breakdowns cost the Ducks in the loss to the Buffs, who wrapped up the No. 3 seed to the conference tournament with the win. But losses by UCLA and Utah later Thursday evening meant neither can catch the UO men over the final weekend of the regular season, giving the Ducks the No. 4 seed at T-Mobile Arena next week.

Oregon (19-11, 11-8 Pac-12) will open the Pac-12 Tournament next Thursday at 2:30 p.m., against the winner of Wednesday’s first-round game between the No. 5 and No. 12 seeds. First, the Ducks will host the Utes in the regular-season finale Saturday, looking to finish strong after losing to the Buffs despite a 20-point, 12-rebound performance with 10-of-10 field-goal shooting by N’Faly Dante.

“We had our opportunity,” UO coach Dana Altman said. “I hate it for Dante; he played so hard and played so well. … We’re just going to have to bounce back on Saturday.”

Freshman guard Jackson Shelstad led the Ducks with a career-high 23 points Thursday, plus six assists. Jermaine Couisnard added 17 points, with that trio accounting for all but 15 of Oregon’s points on the night.

How It Happened: With the winner Thursday guaranteed a first-round bye, the Ducks came out looking up to the challenge. After Colorado scored on the game’s opening possession, Oregon ripped off an 11-0 run sparked by seven points from Shelstad and capped by four from Dante. After the Buffs ended that run, Dante and Shelstad each scored again, and Oregon led 15-4.

Couisnard’s first bucket of the night was a three-pointer for an 18-6 lead. But from there Colorado put together its own 11-0 run to close the gap. The Buffs got within one multiple times but didn’t get over the hump until taking a 33-32 lead during a stretch in which they made six straight field-goal attempts. Shelstad had the Ducks’ last three field goals of the first half, the third a three for a 37-35 lead before the Buffs scored last to tie it 37-37 at halftime.

An alley-oop from Couisnard that Dante flushed gave Oregon a 41-37 lead early in the second half, and Shelstad broke a 44-44 tie moments later with a fadeaway jumper. But Colorado got hot from three after the break, hitting a go-ahead three-pointer that broke a 50-50 tie and another on the next possession for a 56-52 lead.

Shelstad answered with a three and Dante scored on the next trip to put the Ducks back up, 57-56. But that would be Oregon’s last lead of the game. Another Colorado three made it 61-57, and though Shelstad scored again to tie it at 61-61, the Buffs responded with a 9-0 run to take control.

“We made so many defensive mistakes for March 7 — just gave them baskets,” Altman said. “We had seven turnovers, they had 13 points on them— just layups. Got beat 12 on the boards. And just made a lot of defensive mistakes, especially second half.”

The Ducks had some drama in them, with Couisnard scoring on consecutive trips to get Oregon within 70-66. The Buffs then missed three of their next five free-throw attempts, and Dante scored three straight Oregon baskets to cut the deficit to 74-72.

After two made free throws by Colorado, Couisnard hit a three to make it a one-point game, 76-75. But the Buffs answered with two more points, and Couisnard’s potential game-tying three with 5 seconds left was off the mark.

“Everybody played hard, I had no doubt about that,” Dante said. “We just missed some possessions we should have had.”

Up Next: The Ducks host Utah for Senior Day on Saturday (4 p.m., Pac-12 Network).