If I had begun writing this preview during last night’s 2-point win over the Cougars, right around 14:55 left in the second half, when UW was firing on all cylinders and running away with the game 50-31, I would have probably have said UW had a real good shot to beat Oregon. I probably wouldn’t have picked the Huskies to win, but thoughts like “With this many guys hitting, and this much energy on defense, anyone in the conference is beatable!” were flashing through my brain. Of course, I was being foolish. I made the mistake of forgetting the golden rule with this year’s men’s basketball team: consistent inconsistency. Just as soon as all of the painful mishaps of the regular season seemed to be, just maybe, in the rearview mirror, Coach Romar’s team absolutely fell apart for in the last 10 minutes or so.
I’m not talking about WSU going on a bit of a run while UW struggled to hit shots. I’m talking about inexplicable turnovers again and again and again, immediately following WSU makes. I’m talking about zero points scored for an entire 7 minute stretch. And, as if the Basketball Gods were teaching me a lesson, telling me how foolish it was to forget the golden rule, it was Abdul Gaddy that, despite playing terrific basketball up to that point, turned over the ball and jacked up two ill-advised threes within the final five minutes, failing to record a point, rebound, or assist in that span.
Of course, this is a tournament, and because WSU came up short, they have nothing to show for their valiant comeback run. It is only Washington that lives to play another day. However, with those last 10 agonizing minutes, the Huskies flipped the script and wiped away any optimism or confidence I might have had when they were executing so well. It would be a stretch to say that any momentum gained from their solid late-season play and great 30 minutes to start yesterday survived the unraveling that took place. They may have won, but they clearly lost control. When WSU tied it up 62-62, it was shock on the faces of the players and coaches in purple and gold.
It might be said that against Oregon they can channel whatever caused their early success and avoid whatever caused them to lose that success, but I think it’s been clear for a long time that Coach Romar and his players aren’t really capable of playing at a high level consistently, and I can’t assume tonight is the night that they break through that barrier. I can’t assume 40 minutes of high-level basketball. Maybe 20, maybe 30. But if the Huskies completely disappear for such a long stretch tonight, Oregon will defeat them.
Taking that into account, it’s important to remember that Oregon has also struggled with inconsistency as of late. Before beating Washington for a second time on February 13th, they lost three straight to Stanford, Cal, and Colorado. Then, on the 21st of that month, they lost ugly, 48-46, at home to Cal. Finally, to finish off the regular season, they dropped road games to Colorado and Utah. They still finished 12-6 in the conference as compared to 9-9 for UW, but they certainly didn’t hold on to the top-15 status of early and midway through the year.
So, while Oregon has the capability to simply show up prepared to execute, I think it’s more likely that, less than a week removed from two road losses, the Ducks come out a little flat playing for the first time on a neutral court. If this game were in Eugene, I’d think differently, but in this case I think that element may hinder Oregon a bit more than the possibility of fatigue (following a tough game last night) could hinder the Huskies.
Dominic Artis is back, getting 24 minutes in the loss to Utah (he played less than 15 minutes in his return against Oregon State and the loss to Colorado), but considering his 2-9 shooting, it’s likely he is still shaking off rust. That means more of the balanced offensive approach Oregon has used all year long, with 6 players averaging at least 9 points per game, but no one averaging 12 or more ppg. Count on Oregon attacking Scott Suggs, as he is the weakest perimeter defender on the team, in my opinion. On top of that, I think it’s likely the Ducks focus on attacking the rim, especially down low, where both N’Diaye and especially Kemp have struggled to protect the paint with smart rotations and effective help.
For Washington, look for more success from Scott Suggs on the offensive end. He is hitting right around 60% of his shots over the last five or six contents, and he only needed 8 shots to score 19 points last night. Gaddy also needs to channel the smart, even play of the first 30 minutes, as even after his rough finish he had 9 points on 11 assists, next to only 2 turnovers. His smart distribution and lack of turnovers may have been the biggest reason for the huge lead midway through the second half.
As for my prediction: I say Oregon wins. Obviously I would hate to see that happen, but even after defeating the Huskies twice in the season and overall playing a much better season, I don’t think it’s realistic to pick the Dawgs. Especially after they barely held on yesterday. Still, even if they lose, I don’t think it will be a blowout. The emotion that seniors like Gaddy and Suggs have shown lately, coupled with the elevation of their play, tells me that they will continue to compete even if Oregon starts to bury them.
Oregon 68, Washington 59