UO Men Advance To Pac-12 Semifinal

LAS VEGAS — A strong second half propelled the Oregon men’s basketball team past UCLA on Thursday and into the semifinals of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.

The Ducks’ hopes of making the NCAA Tournament remained alive for at least one more day, after Thursday’s 68-66 win over the Bruins in the Pac-12 quarterfinals at T-Mobile Arena. Oregon more than likely needs to win the conference tournament to qualify for the Big Dance, and the UO men are now two wins away from doing just that after settling down in the second half to beat UCLA.

“I tell my guys all the time, just believe,” said UO senior Jermaine Couisnard, whose two free throws with 10.3 seconds left Thursday proved to be the game-winning points for the Ducks. “Regardless of what game we have, just believe — shoot the ball like you just made five in a row, six in a row. Just keep believing.”

The Ducks overcame a five-point halftime deficit, using an 8-0 run midway through the second half to take a lead that ultimately reached 10, before UCLA scored nine straight to make it a one-point game with less than 2 minutes left. But N’Faly Dante capped a 22-point night with a hook shot along the baseline to end the Bruins’ run, and Oregon survived a potential game-tying runner at the buzzer to advance to a semifinal matchup Friday against Arizona.

“We know what’s in front of us,” UO coach Dana Altman said. “Arizona’s a good basketball team, I can’t sugar-coat that — they beat us twice. … We know the position we’ve put ourselves in. We gotta swing away and try to make something happen tomorrow against a really good team.”

Couisnard had 10 points with seven rebounds and six assists, and Jackson Shelstad scored 12. Jadrian Tracey and Kario Oquendo added 10 points each as the Ducks had five players score in double figures for the first time since Feb. 1.

Dante scored his 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and added six rebounds with four assists.

“They’ve been physical with him all year and he just keeps fighting it,” Altman said. “… He’s first-team all-conference for a season. He is a phenomenal player.”

How It Happened: Couisnard and Dante scored during an early 6-0 run that gave the Ducks an 8-6 lead in the opening minutes of the game. But from that point Oregon went more than 6 minutes without a basket, missing its next eight field-goal attempts as UCLA took a 16-10 lead.

Oregon would trail the rest of the half, despite getting its offense doing. Dante scored to end the string of misses, and Shelstad followed with the first made three-pointer of the night for the UO men, coming with 6:58 left in the first half and making it 18-15. Oquendo capped a run of four straight makes for the Ducks with a three-pointer to get them within 24-22, but UCLA answered with five straight points.

The Bruins built their largest lead of the night late in the first half, 34-26. But Tracy hit a three-pointer on Oregon’s last possession of the half and the Ducks went into the break down 34-29.

“We were real tight the first half,” Altman said. “Guys want to win, they were a little nervous and we just didn’t execute anything, kind of got sped up that first half. But the second half we regained our composure, played a lot better.”

The Ducks put together another 6-0 run early in the second half to take the lead, 37-36, and they made it an 11-2 run with another Oquendo three and a basket by Dante for a 42-38 advantage. The UO lead was 46-40 when the Ducks had three possessions that netted just one point, and UCLA took advantage to tie it up, 47-47.

That’s when Oregon put together its 8-0 run that put the Ducks into the lead for good — though the final minutes were not without tension. The 8-0 run began with a Dante three-point play, continued with a basket by Brennan Rigsby set up by Dante, and was capped by another Dante and-one on which he caught a pass while streaking up the court and flushed a dunk while being fouled.

UCLA got back within 59-53, before two Couisnard free throws and then a basket by Shelstad — featuring another assist from Dante — gave the Ducks their biggest lead, 63-53 with 4:07 left. That’s when the Bruins put together nine straight points to get back within one, before Dante’s hook along the baseline with 35 seconds left ended the run and made it 65-62.

The Bruins scored at the other end with 11 seconds left, but Couisnard hit two free throws for a 67-64 lead. UCLA then made two free throws of its own, before Shelstad hit 1-of-2 for the Ducks with 4.4 seconds left and the Bruins were unable to convert a game-tying attempt at the buzzer.

“It’s tournament time; we did the things you have to do,” Altman said. “We were down five at the half on the boards (19-14), end up winning by one (34-33). … We went 10-of-12 from the free-throw line (in the second half). Those are things you have to do in tournament situations.”

Up Next: The Ducks face Arizona on Friday (5 p.m., Pac-12 Network).