Gritty Ducks Bests Buffs In Critical Pac-12 MatchupPosted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2012
Kenny Ocker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Oregon-Colorado game in Eugene on Thursday night.
With 14 minutes to go against Colorado in a make-or-break game for both teams, Oregon senior guard Garrett Sim got one lucky bounce. As he stood at the top of the key and the shot clock fell below 10 seconds, his team leading 48-47, a loose ball fortuitously found its way into Sim’s hands, and he stepped up and snapped the net on a three-pointer, giving the Ducks a four-point lead and fans at Matthew Knight Arena a reason to cheer when there was not much to cheer about before.
Sim’s teammates seized upon the momentum his three-pointer had provided, and play after play went in Oregon’s favor. Devoe Joseph, another senior guard, coaxed a steal from Colorado forward Shane Harris-Tunks and took the ball coast to coast for a difficult layup. Buffaloes guard Nate Tomlinson, a former Oregon recruit, then stepped on the baseline, giving the ball back to the Ducks for a Carlos Emory three-pointer. Colorado guard Askia Booker made three free throws on one possession, but Sim retorted with a three-pointer of his own and Emory capped the Ducks’ run with a three-point play. Two minutes later, what had been a one-point Oregon lead had ballooned to 12, and fell below six points for only five seconds for the rest of the game. “Those big shots, I think they mostly got the crowd into it and that’s what we fed off of,” said Sim, who finished with 19 points on 5-of-7 three-point shooting.
But this wasn’t the tale of a single game. This was the tale of two teams’ seasons intersecting and ending up going in vastly different directions. For two teams perched on the bubble, this game was a must-win, a game that had to be won to be able to go dancing in two weeks. Ever since a 76-71 home-court loss to rival Oregon State, Oregon has played with a sense of urgency that has seen the Ducks go 6-2, losing the only two games on the road, to Colorado and California by a combined four points. The sense of urgency is magnified for the team’s upperclassmen, who have never been to the NCAA Tournament, Joseph and center Tony Woods aside. “I think we’re motivated, knowing we’re seniors and this is our last shot. We know we have a chance,” said Joseph, who led the Ducks with 24 points on 11-for-16 shooting. “We see that we’re on the bubble right now, and we’re just motivated to get to our goal and get to the NCAA Tournament.”
By basically assuring themselves of a first-round bye and sealing the conference tournament No. 3 seed with a win over the moribund Utah Utes on Saturday afternoon, the Ducks have avoided an RPI-damaging game against Arizona State, USC or Utah. Meanwhile, with their loss, the Buffaloes have been eliminated from a first-round bye, damaging an already-thin resume. “We can’t be looking forward to the conference tournament yet,” Colorado head coach Tad Boyle said, noting his team’s Saturday matchup with Oregon State in Corvallis. “It will be a quick turnaround from Thursday, but we are going to take care of business and get ready to play again next week.”
For a team that was unable to take care of business and squandered a nine-point first-half lead against a team it already beat, the Buffaloes’ defeat puts a huge dent into its NCAA Tournament hopes. Still, Colorado’s players haven’t given up on their surprisingly successful season, one in which they were predicted to be toward the bottom of the Pac-12. “We have confidence in ourselves, but anything can happen,” said Buffaloes senior guard Carlon Brown, who finished with 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting and added five rebounds. “That’s why it’s called March Madness.”
But after Thursday night’s win, March Madness is much more tangible for Oregon’s seniors than for Colorado’s.