LOS ANGELES (AP)—Always a dependable offensive team, Oregon has found a new defensive identity and the Ducks used it to punish California.
Taj Porter led four players in double figures with 24 points and No. 16 Oregon built a 21-point halftime lead on its way to an 81-63 victory in the Pac-10 semifinals Friday night.
The fourth-seeded Ducks (25-7) advanced to Saturday’s championship game for the first time since winning the 2003 title. They will play third-seeded Southern California, a 70-61 winner over No. 11 Washington State.
“We’re one of those teams that is peaking at the right time,” Ducks coach Ernie Kent said. “It would be very important and huge for us if we could win this tournament.”
Malik Hairston added 22 points, Maarty Leunen 13 and Aaron Brooks 10 for the Ducks, who held Cal to 43 percent shooting in winning their fifth straight.
“We’ve played some of the best defense we’ve ever played since I’ve been at Oregon (the last five games),” Kent said.
Theo Robertson and Ryan Anderson scored 17 points each to lead the eighth-seeded Golden Bears (16-17), who were coming off a 76-69 overtime victory of fourth-ranked UCLA on Thursday.
Oregon’s defense on Ayinde Ubaka held him to seven after he scored a career-high 29 against UCLA. Taylor Harrison injured his knee in the second half and was limited to five minutes.
“They played three games in three days, so we just wanted to run them,” Porter said.
Friday’s game was opposite of last year’s semifinal between the teams, won by Cal in double overtime. The teams split their regular-season meetings this year.
The Bears got as close as six points with 7:17 remaining, but Oregon outscored them 22-10 to end the game.
“Cal made a gallant run, but I think their legs gave out a little bit,” Kent said.
Oregon is surging again after two down seasons in which it won no more than 15 games. It notched its 25th victory for the first time since the 2001-02 team won 26 before losing to Kansas in an NCAA tournament regional final.
“It’s definitely a great feeling,” said Hairston, a junior.
The Ducks shot 80 percent from the floor during the opening 7 minutes, crushing the Bears with five 3-pointers on the way to Oregon’s largest halftime lead of the season, 44-23. Cal, which set a school record for 3-pointers this season, hit just two in the half.
When the Ducks weren’t scoring from the perimeter, they were dominating in the paint, outscoring the Bears 22-12.
“That’s as good a first half as we’ve ever played. We were really clicking,” Kent said.
Cal turned things around coming out of halftime with a 19-5 run. Robertson had two 3-pointers as the Bears cut their deficit to seven.
“We didn’t expect to come out so dead in the second half,” Hairston said. “We expected Cal to make a run. We did a good job managing it and answering it.”
Hairston’s three-point play and Porter’s fast-break layup off his steal increased Oregon’s lead to 12.
The Bears made one more push with an 11-5 run that included Robertson’s third 3-pointer and two inside baskets by Anderson to get to 59-53.
“We put some effort into coming back,” Cal coach Ben Braun said. “The second half was indicative of the fight of this team. We missed a couple shots we would normally make.”
Hairston again was the catalyst for Oregon, completing two three-point plays as part of the Ducks’ big game-ending spurt.