by Rob Moseley
Lasting all of about four seconds, the first possession of Sunday's second half between Oregon and Washington State was enough to make fans sit up a little higher in their seats and think: Wait a second. There may be something brewing here.
The previous few minutes, during halftime of the Pac-12 Conference game in Matthew Knight Arena, probably featured much commiserating along the lines of, what the heck is going on? Playing for their NCAA Tournament lives, the Ducks shot .381 and had five assists with seven turnovers against the Cougars, who enjoyed a seven-point halftime lead despite nine turnovers of their own.
But then, that brilliant four seconds to open the second half. WSU's in-bounds pass was in the direction of Oregon's end of the floor, Mike Moser collected the turnover and quickly converted a slam dunk, and momentum had shifted completely.
What ensued was among the most one-sided halves the Ducks have played all season, as they shot .560 and limited WSU to .240 to finish off a 67-53 victory, Oregon's third straight.
"The energy just changed," UO coach Dana Altman said. "We gave our fans something to get excited about, and then the pace definitely changed."
Moser followed his dunk with three-pointers on the next three UO possessions, giving the Ducks their first lead of the game at 35-34. It was 44-41 when Joseph Young ended a string of seven misses with his first basket of the game, and he later scored 13 straight as Oregon built its lead to as much as 17, at 63-46.
"It's just us wanting to win," Young said. "Coach will preach about it, but it's us out there playing. We have to come together as a team and overcome adversity, pull the ballgame out."
The adversity the Ducks suffered Sunday was largely self-inflicted. Sophomore Damyean Dotson saw a streak of 60 straight starts end after being cited for using a fake ID at a campus bar over the weekend; he ended up sitting out the entire game. The Ducks then went nearly the first eight minutes without a field goal, a sluggishness that carried over on the defensive end as well.
The Ducks (18-8, 6-8 Pac-12) gave little indication the second half would be any different, sauntering out of the locker room with no apparent enthusiasm. And then, that turnover and dunk for Moser, completely changing the tone of the evening.
"I was just trying to bring some energy," said Moser, whose 21 points on five three-pointers led the Ducks, as did his season-high eight rebounds. "It felt like in the first half, WSU, they play slow, try to lull you to sleep, and we kind of bit."
Moser also had four of Oregon's season-high-tying eight blocks, as the Ducks limited Washington State (9-18, 2-13) to .326 shooting overall. With two weeks left in the regular season, and the UO men generally considered to be on the outside looking in on the NCAA Tournament bubble, Moser's sense of urgency was apparent.
"I think he's looking around and looking at the schedule, seeing there's only four more games," Altman said. "I think it's set in with all those guys. I'm sure that's part of it. …
"We played our way out of it (during a 2-6 January); now we've played our way close to being back in it. We've got a great opportunity."
The Ducks needed desperately for guys like Moser and Young to step up Sunday, with Dotson sitting out. Altman said he'll sit down with his sophomore wing to discuss Dotson's availability for Thursday's game at UCLA.
The coach certainly didn't paint a picture Sunday of a serial problem child.
"Dot's a good young man," Altman said. "We'll work through this. … For two years, he's done a lot of good things. He's going to be all right."
Moser said Dotson apologized to the team for the situation. Altman said that wasn't at the coach's prompting.
Needing to finish strong in the regular season, the Ducks won't have an easy road. The Bruins (21-6) are playing as well as anyone in the conference, and a week later Oregon returns home to close out the regular season against Arizona State (19-8) and Arizona (25-2).
So the situation looks a bit bleak in terms of the schedule. Then again, things looked bleak for the first 20 minutes Sunday, until the Ducks announced with the opening possession of the second half that they were ready to make a statement.
"We've got our work cut out for us," Altman said. "But at least we put ourselves back in the hunt."
NOTES: Oregon overturned a seven-point halftime deficit by outscoring Washington State 43-22 in the second frame. … Oregon led WSU 24-7 in points off turnovers, 10-2 in steals and 8-3 in blocks. … The Ducks made 11 three-points, just one shy of their season-high. Oregon has hit 27 three-pointers in the past three games. … Jason Calliste made his first start as a Duck, scoring 12 points to reach double figures for the 17th game this season. … Johnathan Loyd passed Luke Jackson for fifth on Oregon’s all-time assist charts. Loyd now has 428 career assists. … After scoring just two points in the first half, Young finished with 18 on the game and reached double figure scoring for the 23rd time this season.