Oregon coach Dana Altman paced the hardwood floor inside T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night and told the players sitting on the bench to “finish it” as the second half of the Pac-12 Tournament championship game withered away.
Finish their fourth win in four days. Finish beating regular-season champion Washington.
Finish clinching a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
The Ducks opened the second half on a 20-7 run to seal a 68-48 win over the Huskies, the tournament title and the league’s automatic bid into the NCAAs. Regular-season champion Washington and runner-up Arizona State are in line for at-large bids, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
The tournament bracket will be unveiled Sunday.
“We had a lot of ups and downs,” Altman said. “All of us were frustrated. The coaching staff, the players. But the resolve they showed to fight back and really become a team and play for each other, it was really neat to see. The last three weeks have been amazing.”
The Ducks (23-12) did not appear destined for the NCAA Tournament after losing star freshman and Findlay Prep alumnus Bol Bol to a foot injury in January and limping through the majority of their schedule in the mediocre Pac-12.
But they closed the regular season with four straight victories to claim a sixth-place finish, then maximized four days in Las Vegas with wins over Washington State, Utah, Arizona State and Washington (26-8).
The Ducks struggled early in the first half to navigate the Huskies’ vaunted zone defense, but rallied to take a 28-26 halftime lead. They dissected Washington’s defense in the second half and turned stops into scores to turn the game into a rout.
Payton Pritchard, the tournament’s most outstanding player, finished with 20 points, six rebounds, seven assists and four steals for Oregon. Louis King scored 15 for the Ducks.
“We took care of our bodies. We got sleep. We hydrated well,” said Pritchard, who was joined on the all-tournament team by King, Colorado’s McKinley Wright, Arizona State’s Zylan Cheatham, and Washington’s Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle. “Game in, game out, we just came prepared. Fatigue never hit us.”
The championship game — like several others during the four-day tournament — was sparsely attended compared to that of the past two years, in which Arizona’s rabid fan base packed T-Mobile Arena to watch the Wildcats win two consecutive tournament titles.
They were eliminated this season in the first round, and clusters of seats in the lower and upper bowls remained empty throughout the week. Announced attendances of 8,876 on Wednesday, 13,012 on Thursday, 13,955 on Friday and 12,877 on Saturday are well below the venue’s capacity of 18,800 for basketball.
Last year’s championship game drew 16,501, but conference commissioner Larry Scott said he thought the crowds this season were “strong.”
“Loved the atmosphere,” he said Saturday during a news conference. “There’s no doubt Arizona fans have traveled extremely well to this event. And our Arizona fan turnout is down, understandably. But we’re very pleased with the attendance.”