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2022 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament

March 2-6 | Las Vegas, NV
Michelob ULTRA Arena

Michelle Smith roundup: Surging Oregon, underdog Utah advance to Pac-12 Tournament semifinals

Mar 3, 2022
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LAS VEGAS - Nyara Sabally, a player whose injuries have cost her so much of her college career to this point, stepped to the line with 3.8 seconds to go Thursday night against a UCLA team facing a must-win game, a situation they find themselves in, ironically, because of injuries.

And the Oregon junior post buried both free throws to put the second-seeded Ducks in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals with a 63-60 win. Oregon moves on to the tournament semifinals for the third time in the last four seasons and will take on Utah, which defeated Washington State in the nightcap, 70-59, and is making its first-ever trip to the semis.

The Ducks have beaten the Utes twice this season in a pair of games decided by single digits.

In a see-saw game that looked like a game deep in the NCAA Tournament, the Ducks barely prevailed in a matchup that included 14 lead changes and seven ties (neither team had a larger lead than five points) and it was the Bruins who led for the majority of four quarters.

“We haven’t been our best. We’ve been really inconsistent for most of the year,” said Oregon coach Kelly Graves. “That’s been game-to-game and sometimes within games. But for whatever reason, lately, we've played really, really well late and in the fourth quarter. And I think that just shows we have a lot of character. We are a young team, still. But they just get the job done when it's needed.”

Oregon (20-10) relied heavily on its post game in the second half to get to the semifinals with Sabally and Sedona Prince combining for 27 points and 27 rebounds, turning a -2 rebounding margin in the first half into a +10 margin by the end of the game. Endyia Rogers added 16 points and six assists.

“Every single person was crashing the boards, just boxing out their player,” Prince said. “And it paid off. We got some really good late rebounds that got us the win. But we just kind of came together and decided that was what we needed to do to win the game.”

The Bruins (14-12) knew that possibly the only way for them to get into the NCAA Tournament was to win the Pac-12 Tournament. They fell just short of giving themselves another couple of games to get there.

A season marred by injuries — six of their nine players have missed 10 or more games this season — a long COVID pause, and a consistently short bench means the season did not turn out the way they had hoped.

UCLA, which scored just seven points in the final quarter on 3-of-13 shooting, got 18 points from both Ilmar’l Thomas and Jaeylnn Penn, both of whom transferred to Westwood before the season.

Bruins head coach Cori Close was going to make her NCAA case, particularly after a knock-down-drag-out game against one of the elite programs in the country and a NET ranking of 42, which should leave the door open.

“We would accept a WNIT invitation, but I sure hope it doesn’t come to that,” Close said. “I would think they would want the best 68 teams in the country in the tournament and I think it’s pretty hard to argue after that game that we are not one of those teams.

“I just want to keep coaching them.”

Oregon, meanwhile, is looking to solidify a top-16 seed, which would mean the Ducks can host the first two rounds in Eugene.

Graves said he came into the conference tournament thinking that his team would need to get to the title game. They need one more win to get there.

Utah 70, Washington State 59

The sixth-seeded Utes have come a long way from last year’s 10th-place finish to pull the biggest upset of the tournament so far, riding 19 points from Jenna Johnson and a big first quarter to a win over the third-seeded Cougars.

Utah has never been here before, one of the final four teams left in this tournament, but one of the hottest teams in the country (nine wins in their last 12 games) now has the opportunity to take down Oregon and punctuate a season that should end with a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.

“We’re the underdogs and we’re just going to keep going,” said senior Dru Gylten.

Utah may not know until gametime tomorrow whether they will play with or without sophomore forward Peyton McFarland, who sustained a first-half knee injury and left the game on crutches. McFarland would provide key minutes off the bench and be helpful in a matchup against Sabally and Prince inside.

Washington State got a career-high 18 points from Bella Murakatete on an off-night for the Leger-Walker sisters, who combined for 10 points on 4-for-24 shooting.

Despite being down by as many as 24 points, the Cougars played hard to the end, knowing there is more postseason basketball in front of them as a near shoo-in to make the NCAA Tournament field for the second straight year.