LOS ANGELES – The Washington State Cougars probably need to win four games in four days at the Pacific-10 Conference tournament to make their third straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
No Pac-10 team has ever gone 4-for-4, but the Cougars took the first step by crushing Oregon, 62-40, late Wednesday night in the opening round of the tournament at the Staples Center.
The victory pushes the Cougars into a quarterfinal game tonight against 15th-ranked UCLA (8:30, FSN). The seventh-seeded Cougars (17-14) and second-seeded Bruins (24-7) have split two games this season.
In the most recent meeting, Washington State edged the Bruins, 82-81, behind a career-high 33 points by Taylor Rochestie on Feb. 21. The victory, just the second for Washington State in 52 trips to UCLA, snapped WSU’s nine-game losing streak versus the Bruins.
The Cougars have not won two straight against UCLA since 1936 and ’37, when the Bruins lost the first three meetings between the schools. Since then, UCLA is 94-11 against Washington State, making this one of the more lopsided conference series in college basketball history.
Of course, the current Cougars are vastly superior to most WSU teams of the past. The Bruins remain formidable, but defections to the NBA have left the Bruins more vulnerable than the UCLA teams that reached the NCAA Final Four the past three seasons.
No one has to convince Oregon of WSU’s improvement of late. The Ducks won 13 straight games against Washington State before going 0-3 versus the Cougars each of the past two seasons.
The 10th-seeded Ducks (8-23) were overmatched from the start Wednesday.
Aron Baynes abused the Ducks inside; Rochestie delivered some of the most sensational dishes this side of Rachael Ray’s cooking show; and Caleb Forrest knocked down more than enough jumpers to make certain WSU never relinquished the lead.
The Cougars led 34-22 at intermission and 54-34 midway through the second half. The Ducks’ 40 points were a record low for the tournament, and the final victory and loss margin of 22 points tied tournament records for both schools, dating back to WSU’s 78-56 win over Oregon in 1989.
Baynes led WSU with 20 points and eight rebounds. He hit seven of eight shots from the floor and sank all six of his free throws.
Rochestie, named the Pac-10 Scholar-Athlete of the Year in men’s basketball earlier in the day, had just four points but piled up six often sensational assists. Forrest, who scored just two points in the previous two games against Oregon, pumped in 14.
Oregon’s Tajuan Porter scored 20 points. No other Duck had more than six points.
Ernie Kent’s future as Oregon’s coach has been the subject of considerable speculation among media and fans, as has been the case several times in past years. Despite expected struggles with a young team this season, Kent has won a school-record 219 games (with 157 losses) in 12 years at Oregon. ... Gonzaga coach Mark Few, an Oregon graduate who grew up near Eugene, is a good friend of outgoing athletic director Pat Kilkenny and has long been mentioned as a potential replacement for Kent. Few’s name has also been linked to Arizona.