UCLA come through in clutch to beat Oregon, 83-74
This is what UCLA did not want.
The Bruins did not want to let a struggling Oregon team stay close into the final minutes.
They did not want a relatively tame McArthur Court crowd to find its lungs, filling the old arena with a constant roar as the clock ticked down.
This is what UCLA needed.
The 12th-ranked Bruins needed clutch performances down the stretch, especially from two players who had been struggling this season, to secure an 83-74 victory in a Pacific 10 Conference game Sunday afternoon.
“This place is so hard to play,” Coach Ben Howland said. “The building was alive. I wish for once we could show up here and not have the building so ready for us.”
Senior guard Darren Collison proved to be a calming influence amid less-than-optimal conditions, making a string of free throws at the end to finish with a team-high 22 points.
But it was the unexpected shooting of Josh Shipp and Nikola Dragovic that provided a big lift for the Bruins.
Shipp, who came into the game shooting 21% on three-pointers, made three from long range in the last 10 minutes. Dragovic, at 20%, made a critical three-pointer after the Ducks drew close.
“If you’re a good player, you love those situations,” Shipp said. “When it’s the loudest and you have the most adversity, you see what type of player you are.”
Those crucial baskets ruined an otherwise gallant effort by the Ducks, whose record slipped to 6-8, 0-2.
“A few times we were right there,” Oregon Coach Ernie Kent said. “But they didn’t let us close the gap.”
Oregon forged its comeback by switching to a 2-3 matchup zone, Collison said.
The change disrupted UCLA’s attack, forcing the Bruins to adjust.
At the other end of the court, the Ducks started to score more from the paint and caused UCLA center Alfred Aboya to foul out with 2:44 remaining.
Aboya had been playing almost foul-free so far this season.
“They were setting their screens high so that when we hedged, we were a little bit late to recover,” Aboya said.
For much of the afternoon, it seemed as if the Bruins might escape both drama and the usual clatter associated with this rickety old gym on the Eugene campus.
Last season, UCLA showed up with freshman Kevin Love, an Oregon native who had chosen to play out of state. Fans responded with a degree of rancor startling even for a student section known as the “Pit Crew.”
There were signs mocking Love’s physical appearance, his parents and the history of mental illness in his family. There were homophobic chants.
Back then, Howland lashed back at the crowd’s behavior, calling it “vile, disgusting, inappropriate innuendo.” But before this year’s game, he downplayed the incident, preferring to focus his comments on basketball.
As it turned out, the crowd of 8,595 -- not quite a sellout because students were just returning from holiday break -- was quiet at the start. As one fan said walking into the arena: “No Kevin Love this time.”
Tipoff was delayed for several minutes after the student section threw handfuls of talc into the air, a fine powder drifting onto the court, but the Ducks’ faithful did not really get revved up because their team fell behind quickly.
Fighting through Oregon’s pressure defense, the Bruins opened an 11-point lead by making eight of 10 three-pointers in the first half.
Those shots stopped falling in the second half, at least for a while, giving the Ducks room for a comeback.
“We shared the ball and the defense played much better,” Oregon forward Joevan Catron said. “We came out with a lot of energy.”
As usual, the home team was led by guard Tajuan Porter, who had a game-high 24 points.
His three-pointer with 6:07 remaining cut UCLA’s lead to four points.
But by that time, Shipp and Dragovic had started to heat up.
And once UCLA pulled ahead, Collison took care of the ball and took care of business from the foul line, setting a school record with his 40th consecutive made free throw this season.
He also had nine assists and only one turnover in 38 minutes of play as the Bruins improved their record to 12-2, 2-0.
“You wanted to just remain poised,” Collison said. “And quiet the crowd as much as possible.”
Just what his team needed.
Lee on the mend
UCLA freshman guard Malcolm Lee says his injured left knee is feeling better and he hopes to play against USC next Sunday.
Though Lee accompanied the team on its swing through Oregon this weekend, he did not suit up.
He is scheduled to meet with a doctor today.
Lee initially suffered the injury in practice.
An MRI exam showed no serious damage but the pain lingered.
Now, he said he expected to be cleared to resume practicing early this week.
“It’s feeling a lot better,” Lee said. “I want to start playing again.”
UCLA up next
Sunday, 7:30, Galen Center, Prime Ticket: The Bruins, who are riding an eight-game winning streak, split their regular-season meetings with the Trojans last season but won, 56-46, at the Galen Center. Darren Collison scored 14 points in that game to lead UCLA.
-- Jim Barrero
USC loses to Oregon State
Beavers end a 21-game Pacific 10 Conference losing streak with 62-58 overtime victory. PAGE 6