Ducks deliver in clutch
EUGENE — This time, Oregon held on.
Malik Hairston scored 19 points and Oregon didn't miss from the free-throw line in the final minute as the Ducks beat Arizona State 67-61 Thursday night to give their postseason hopes a boost.
The Ducks (17-12, 8-9 Pac-10), who have been hindered by their inability to maintain late leads this season, went more than five minutes without scoring after taking a 59-46 with 6:05 to play.
Leading 59-55, Oregon went 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 56 seconds to fend off a late charge from the Sun Devils (18-11, 8-9).
"For us to still pull it out at the end — knock down some free throws, get some defensive stops — was huge for us confidence-wise," said Oregon's Maarty Leunen, who made six of those free throws.
The win, coupled with Arizona's win at Oregon State, created a three-way tie for fifth-place in the Pac-10 Conference between the Ducks, Wildcats and Sun Devils with one game left.
Oregon and Arizona play on Saturday, with the winner locking up no worse than sixth place and a first-round bye in the next week's conference tournament.
"It's a big ballgame for both of us," said Oregon coach Ernie Kent, whose team beat the Wildcats in Tucson in January.
Tajuan Porter added 12 points and Leunen recorded 10 points and nine rebounds for the Ducks.
Leunen, the senior forward and second-leading scorer on the team, was coming off a career-high 32-point, seven-3-pointer game in a win against Oregon State last weekend. Against the Sun Devils, he was just 1-for-1 from the field, though he was 8-for-8 from the line.
"He still almost had a double-double," Kent said. "That shows how good he is."
Arizona State freshman forward James Harden, who came into the game as the fourth leading scorer in the Pac-10 at 17.9 points, was held to 12 points through the first 36:21 of the game before scoring 10 in the final 3:39 to help the Sun Devils rally from an 11-point deficit.
His back-to-back 3-pointers with just under a minute to play cut Oregon's lead to 61-58 with 44 seconds remaining.
Harden finished with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, while Rihards Kuksiks and Jeff Pendergraph scored 10 each.
Hairston scored 12 points in the first half on 4-of-6 shooting as the Ducks staked a 33-32 lead at the break.
Oregon trailed 18-15 nine minutes into the game before Hairston and LeKendric Longmire traded 3-pointers on four straight possessions to put the Ducks ahead 27-19 at the 8:17 mark.
But the Sun Devils responded with a 9-2 run led by five points from Harden to cut Oregon's lead to one, 29-28.
Oregon had a chance to put the game out of reach early in the second half when it outscored the Sun Devils 10-2 to open the half. The first seven of those points came in transition off Arizona State turnovers or misses.
"That's how we wanted to play," Hairston said. "We were able to get out and run. It was great to see that our transition can work pretty good against a good defensive transition team."
But Oregon's 43-34 lead was short-lived as Arizona State had a 7-2 run of its own, starting with a steal and one-handed dunk by Harden, to make it 45-41 Oregon with 13:44 to play.
That was as close as the Sun Devils would get until the final minute, however, as Porter nailed his third 3-pointer of the game and Leunen and Drew Viney scored inside to put the Ducks back on top 52-41.
Another 3-pointer by Porter made it 59-46 with 6:05 to play but Oregon didn't score again until Leunen made a pair of free throws with 55 seconds left.
"We had lots of opportunities but we didn't convert on a lot of them and things just didn't go our way," Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said.