Just a second for the Bruins
The hobble in Darren Collison’s walk did not look good. Neither did the ice pack strapped around his backside.
But the faintest of grins on his face told a different story.
“The good thing about the X-rays,” he explained, “they say nothing is broken.”
It was that sort of day for UCLA, a good news-bad news deal.
The 20th-ranked Bruins began Saturday by racing past woeful Oregon, 94-68, in their regular-season finale at Pauley Pavilion. Then they played a waiting game, the focus shifting to Seattle, where Washington played Washington State.
A Washington loss would have created a tie for the Pacific 10 Conference title, UCLA’s fourth straight title, but no such luck, the Bruins settling for second place after the Huskies’ 67-60 victory.
“I’m not worried about that,” Coach Ben Howland said. “Whatever happens, happens.”
At least Collison, their point guard and floor leader who took a hard fall in the second half, emerged later in the afternoon with a reassuring test result to go with his sore tailbone.
“I’m going to be all right,” he said, looking toward the start of the Pac-10 tournament at Staples Center in a few days. “I’m going to play Thursday.”
As the second-seeded team, UCLA (24-7, 13-5) is scheduled for the late game that day, an 8:30 p.m. start against the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between No. 7 Washington State and No. 10 Oregon.
The Bruins’ success -- or lack thereof -- could have a big say in their seeding for the NCAA tournament, and Howland knows it: “The bottom line is, we have to perform well here in this next week.”
First, however, UCLA needed to take care of business against the last-place Ducks, who, while falling short of expectations this season, arrived in Westwood having won two of their last three.
Earlier in the week, Howland talked about the emergence of Oregon freshman Drew Wiley as a shooting threat. Apparently, his team wasn’t listening.
Time and again, UCLA and forward Nikola Dragovic, in particular, left Wiley by himself away from the ball with predictable results.
Catch. Score. Repeat.
Wiley’s three-pointers -- he made six of 10, finishing with a team-high 18 points -- staked the Ducks to a lead through much of the first half, with only Collison, Dragovic and center Alfred Aboya generating enough offense to keep the score close.
Then UCLA swingman Josh Shipp, becoming an offensive leader late in the season, scored a flurry of points capped by a three-pointer at the buzzer to give his team a 47-40 halftime lead.
“UCLA is a very physical basketball team,” Oregon Coach Ernie Kent said. “They just broke us down.”
Any suspicions about the Bruins getting distracted by the conference race, senior day festivities before the game or anything else were put to rest by the team’s intensity in the opening minutes of the second half.
In one sequence, Dragovic got one of his game-high four blocks on a layup attempt by Oregon forward Joevan Catron. The Ducks grabbed the loose ball, but Collison tipped it away and finished the play with a fastbreak basket.
When Oregon (8-22, 2-16) made a mini-run, closing the gap to six points with 13 minutes left, Collison came through again, driving inside and making a layup while getting upended by a defender.
The senior remained on his back awhile -- obviously in pain -- before rising to convert a free throw and retreating to the bench.
Freshman Jerime Anderson took his place and performed well. Shipp kept scoring too, on his way to 28 points -- his second career-high effort in as many games.
On a day when the Bruins held a 45-27 rebounding advantage and shot 57% while limiting Oregon to 39%, there was nothing to worry about.
Except for that Washington game and, more important, Collison’s health.
“When somebody falls and stays on the floor, you’re concerned a little bit,” Aboya said. “But when he stands up on his own power, that shows he’s not as hurt as you imagined.”
It was that sort of day for the Bruins.
Thursday vs. Washington State or Oregon, 8:30, FS West -- The second-seeded Bruins begin the quest for a second Pac-10 tournament title in the last three seasons.
-- David Wharton