Oregon tops Colorado for final Pac-12 tournament title

Oregon tops Colorado for final Pac-12 tournament title

LAS VEGAS — The conclusion of Pac-12 Conference basketball season appeared imminent on Saturday, signaling the start of an unforeseen journey for Oregon.

For the Ducks, securing a spot in the NCAA tournament necessitated triumph in the league tournament, a feat they accomplished despite challenges. Anchored by a resilient N’Faly Dante, who battled through a bruised tailbone, Oregon clinched an automatic bid with a 75-68 victory over Colorado.

Dante’s impeccable performance, going 12-for-12 from the field and tallying 25 points, propelled Oregon to their sixth Pac-12 tournament title and their first since 2019. With the Ducks not slated for an at-large invitation to the 68-team field, this victory was indispensable for their postseason aspirations.

“We understood the task at hand,” remarked Oregon guard Jermaine Couisnard, contributing 14 points and eight assists. “We knew we had to win three consecutive games.”

While Colorado, seeded third and boasting a 23-10 record, is anticipated to secure an at-large bid, their eight-game winning streak was halted by Oregon. Despite ranking 24th in the NCAA’s NET ranking prior to the game, Buffaloes coach Tad Boyle expressed confidence in his team’s NCAA tournament credentials.

“I’ve coached teams that deserved to be in and weren’t, and I’ve coached teams that didn’t deserve to be in and were,” stated Boyle. “Ultimately, it’s the committee’s decision. I believe in our metrics and in these players, and I have no doubt this team belongs in the NCAA tournament.”

Dante’s resilience amid injury, sustained during Friday’s semifinal against Arizona, was lauded as he notched nine rebounds, three steals, and claimed the tournament’s most outstanding player award. Despite accruing his third foul early in the second half, Dante avoided further fouls and concluded the game with a remarkable plus-19 rating.

“It’s an incredible feeling,” expressed Dante. “This is something I’ve been striving for since I first arrived on campus. I’m grateful to have contributed to the team’s success, and I’m immensely proud of my teammates and our collective effort.”

Dante’s flawless performance, extending his streak to 22 consecutive made shots against Colorado, was pivotal in the Ducks’ victory.

“N’Faly Dante truly made the difference tonight,” acknowledged Boyle. “Despite our efforts to double-team him, he found ways to score and significantly impacted our defensive plays around the rim.”

Additionally, Jackson Shelstad delivered a notable performance for Oregon, contributing 17 points.

KJ Simpson led the charge for the Buffaloes with 23 points, while Luke O’Brien added 11 points to their tally.

Oregon’s defensive prowess forced Colorado into committing 12 turnovers, with the Ducks capitalizing on these opportunities, outscoring the Buffaloes 21-0 off turnovers.

With the score knotted at 62, Shelstad’s clutch free throws followed by Jadrian Tracey’s layup gave the Ducks a decisive lead they never relinquished.

Despite the absence of the fervent support typically associated with a pivotal conference showdown—largely due to Arizona’s early exit— the atmosphere remained charged, buoyed by the energy of the 12,912 fans in attendance.

Reflecting on the conclusion of the Pac-12 era in basketball, Oregon coach Dana Altman expressed a mix of nostalgia and appreciation for the conference’s legacy.

“It’s bittersweet to bid farewell to the Pac-12,” lamented Altman. “We secured our first championship here in Vegas back in 2013, and now, winning the final one here holds a special significance. Vegas has been a memorable setting for us, and we’ll miss that.”

Oregon’s participation in the conference’s last basketball championship mirrors their involvement in the football championship last December. However, the conference landscape is set to undergo significant changes, with Oregon and three other schools transitioning to the Big Ten Conference.

Similarly, Colorado and three fellow Pac-12 members will join the Big 12, while California and Stanford are slated to compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Only Oregon State and Washington State remain committed to upholding the Pac-12 legacy, albeit under uncertain circumstances. The appointment of Teresa Gould as league commissioner for the next two years signals a determination to explore avenues for preserving the conference’s identity. In the interim, both schools will align with the Mountain West Conference in football and the West Coast Conference in other sports, with the potential for a full merger in the future.

With Saturday night’s championship game serving as the poignant conclusion to an illustrious basketball history, the Pac-12 bids farewell to an era defined by excellence and storied rivalries.

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