Center N’Faly Dante provided the muscle.
Point guard Will Richardson provided the poise.
It was a winning combination for Oregon Thursday night, as the Ducks opened Pac-12 play with a 74-60 men’s basketball victory in front of 5,379 in Matthew Knight Arena.
Dante, who hadn’t played in a game and a half after suffering a concussion against Michigan State on Nov. 25, returned to the starting lineup and had a career-high 22 points on 11-of-16 shooting, as well as a game-high seven rebounds.
Richardson had 17 points and eight assists and once again was the steady hand the Ducks needed when the game was going back and forth with 13 lead changes and 11 ties in the first 27 minutes.
“Will just did a great job again just getting guys in the right spot,” coach Dana Altman said.
In his last three games, the fifth-year senior has averaged 21.3 points, 8.0 assists and is shooting 51% from the floor (23-for-45). The Ducks are 2-1 in those games.
"Will, the last three games, he's been phenomenal," Altman said. "I can't say it enough, the transformation he's made, the way he's got guys playing. I'd like to take a little credit for it, but it's all him. He's done a hell of a job. He's really taken ownership, and guys have followed him."
The score was tied 32-32 at halftime and Washington State led 44-40 with 13:58 to play, but it was all Ducks (4-4, 1-0 Pac-12) after that as they put the Cougars (3-3, 0-1) away with a game-closing 34-16 run — beginning with a 13-2 stretch that started with five points from Richardson.
Dante also had 16 of his points in the second half while also stifling Washington State post Mouhamed Gueye.
Gueye had 17 points in the first half and scored the Cougars' first basket of the second half. He was then held scoreless the rest of the game.
“I though Dante kind of wore him down,” Altman said. “On the offensive end he was physical and took it to the basket and on the defensive end I thought he did a good job.”
The Ducks led 62-54 with roughly 5:00 remaining when Dante scored inside on three straight possessions to make it 68-54 with 3:58 to play, putting the game out of reach.
Oregon forward Quincy Guerrier had 12 points, guard Rivaldo Soares had eight points, seven assists and five rebounds, and center Kel’el Ware had eight points and five rebounds as the Ducks shot 52% from the field (32-for-62) — though they were only 3-for-18 from 3-point range — and outrebounded the Cougars 30-26.
Guard Brennan Rigsby also gave the Ducks a boost, as the junior college transfer was cleared to play for the first time this season and provided two points, six rebounds and two steals in 23 minutes off the bench.
"I didn't want to play him that much," Altman said. "I got a little carried away. But he was really playing well — defense, a couple boards. For not playing for a month, offensively it showed, a couple looks he'll normally hit. But the defense, getting a couple of steals, digging down, he did some really good things."
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Oregon vs. No. 21 UCLA
2 p.m. Sunday at Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles. TV: ESPN. Radio: KUJZ-FM (95.3)
This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Oregon Ducks men's basketball finishes strong to beat Washington State