There have been few answers to Oregon’s recent strong play on the perimeter. Southern California hopes it has one in Gabe Pruitt as he leads the Trojans into the Pac-10 tournament championship game against the 16th-ranked Ducks at Staples Center.
Oregon (25-7) has shot 47.6 percent (49-for-103) from 3-point range during its current five-game winning streak, and has made 20 of 36 shots from beyond the arc to advance to the Pac-10 tournament finals for the first time since winning it in 2003.
Freshman guard Tajuan Porter made six 3-pointers and finished with 24 points as the fourth-seeded Ducks shot a season-high 62.5 percent from the field and routed eighth-seeded California 81-63 on Friday.
“They played three games in three days, so we just wanted to run them,” said the 5-foot-6 Porter, who is 16-for-24 from the field in Oregon’s two tournament wins, including 11 of 16 from 3-point range.
Ducks coach Ernie Kent has been pleased with his team’s effort in Los Angeles on the defensive end, allowing just 56.5 points per game in the two victories.
“We’ve played some of the best defense we’ve ever played since I’ve been at Oregon (the last five games),” said Kent, whose team is all but certain to make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2003. “We’re one of those teams that is peaking at the right time. It would be very important and huge for us if we could win this tournament.”
Aaron Brooks, who leads the Ducks in scoring at 17.7 points per game, had only 10 on Friday but did record six assists.
Third-seeded Southern California (23-10) also appears to be a shoo-in for the NCAA tournament after its 70-61 semifinal victory over second-seeded and 11th-ranked Washington State. Pruitt went 6-for-7 from 3-point range and finished with 26 points for the Trojans, who are in the Pac-10 title game for the first time since losing to the Ducks in 2003.
“During warmups, I was feeling it. I knew if I got open looks I would knock them down,” the junior guard said.
Pruitt is shooting just 37.4 percent from beyond the arc overall but has made 10 of 13 3-pointers in his two games at Staples Center. He also had three assists and two steals without a turnover against the Cougars, further earning the praise of his coach.
“I think Gabe has had his two best games of the season,” Tim Floyd said.
Pruitt averaged 15.0 points in Southern California’s two wins over Oregon this season, going 5-for-13 from 3-point range.
Freshman Taj Gibson added 15 points and nine rebounds Friday, narrowly missing his second double-double of the tournament. The 6-foot-9 forward caused the Ducks problems as Southern California swept the two games this season, totaling 36 points, 15 rebounds and 11 blocks while shooting 14-for-18 from the field.
Oregon shot just 21 of 65 (32.3 percent) from 3-point range in the two defeats to the Trojans, though Brooks did score 31 points in an 84-82 home defeat Jan. 4 that was also the Ducks’ first loss after a 13-0 start.
The Trojans’ last Pac-10 tournament victory over the Ducks came in the 2002 semifinals.