ARIZONA BASKETBALL

Oregon captures final Pac-12 Tournament championship with win over Colorado

Mar 16, 2024, 8:54 PM | Updated: 11:33 pm

Jadrian Tracey...

Jadrian Tracey #22 of the Oregon Ducks calls a play in the first half of the championship game against the Colorado Buffaloes in the Pac-12 basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena on March 16, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The end likely came for Pac-12 Conference basketball on Saturday. It also marked the beginning of an unexpected journey for Oregon.

The Ducks had to win the conference tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament. And behind a hurting big man who was perfect on this night, they found a way.

N’Faly Dante, playing with a bruised tailbone, made all 12 of his shots and scored 25 points, and Oregon secured an automatic bid by defeating Colorado 75-68.

By winning the conference tournament, fourth-seeded Oregon (23-11) will play in the big tourney because the Ducks weren’t projected to receive an at-large invitation to the 68-team field. This was the Ducks’ sixth Pac-12 Tournament championship and first since 2019.

“We knew what we had to come down here and do,” said Oregon guard Jermaine Couisnard, who had 14 points and eight assists. “We knew we had to win three straight.”

Third-seeded Colorado (23-10) is expected to receive an at-large bid. The Buffaloes, whose eight-game winning streak ended, entered the game 24th in the NCAA’s NET ranking.

“I have coached teams that have deserved to be in that weren’t in, and I’ve also coached teams that didn’t deserve to be in that got in,” Buffaloes coach Tad Boyle said. “All that matters is what that committee thinks. I look at our metrics, I look at these guys and there’s no doubt in my mind this is an NCAA Tournament team.”

Dante, who was injured in Friday’s semifinal victory over Arizona, also had nine rebounds and three steals and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. He picked up his third foul 2:19 into the second half, but never got a fourth and ended the game with a plus-19 rating.

“It feels really good,” Dante said. “It was something I wanted to do since I stepped on campus. I am glad I was able to do something to help the team. I am proud of this team and my teammates.”

Dante made all 10 shots in the Ducks’ previous meeting with Colorado, making him 22 for 22.

“I thought N’Faly Dante was the difference in the game,” Boyle said. “We were trying to double him and he scored out of double teams. He changed shots at the rim defensively.”

Also for Oregon, Jackson Shelstad scored 17 points.

KJ Simpson led the Buffaloes with 23 points and Luke O’Brien had 11.

Oregon’s defense forced Colorado into 12 turnovers and the Ducks outscored the Buffaloes 21-0 off giveaways.

The score was tied at 62 when Shelstad made two free throws and Jadrian Tracey had a layup to put the Ducks ahead by four with 2:41 left. They never trailed again.

The atmosphere wasn’t quite what might be expected of a historical conference playing, for now at least, its final basketball game, but it was better than expected given sixth-ranked Arizona bowed out Friday night. When the Wildcats left, so did nearly all of their rabid fans who flocked to what has become known as McKale North. The 12,912 fans who did show up in their place were high in energy.

“It hurts that we’re not going to have a Pac-12,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “We won the first one here in 2013 when it moved to Vegas and we’re winning the last one here in Vegas. Vegas has been really good to us. We’re going to miss that. … I’m really going to miss the Pac-12.”

Oregon again was part of a final Pac-12 event, having also played in the football championship in December. The Ducks and three of their brethren will be headed to the Big Ten Conference in the coming months.

Colorado and three other Pac-12 teams will soon call the Big 12 home, and California and Stanford will play in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Only Oregon State and Washington State remain behind, determined to preserve the Pac-12 in some way, even naming Teresa Gould as league commissioner for the next two years.

Whether those two schools find a way to keep the conference alive remains to be seen, and in the meantime they will align with the Mountain West in football and West Coast Conference in other sports. A full merger at some point is a possibility.

Gone for certain is the Pac-12 as it’s long been known, the so-called Conference of Champions with a rich basketball history, with Saturday night’s championship game the last notable event in that sport.

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