Second-ranked UCLA takes a harsh shot, losing in final second to No. 21 Oregon
The boxing metaphor Coach Steve Alford likes to use finally came into play nearly two months into the season.
UCLA discovered how it would respond after getting punched in the mouth Wednesday night at Matthew Knight Arena. The Bruins rose with a bloody lip and a few wobbly teeth, delivering several strong counterpunches of their own, only to be flattened in the final second.
Oregon’s Dillon Brooks delivered the knockout blow after taking a pass beyond the three-point line, dribbling around a screen and pulling up for a shot with Lonzo Ball’s outstretched arm in his face.
The ball went through the basket and UCLA’s undefeated season was sunk.
The second-ranked Bruins technically had eight-tenths of a seconds left after fans who had prematurely stormed the court to mob a jubilant Brooks were shooed away, but Ball’s heave from beyond halfcourt was well off the mark and the No. 21 Ducks emerged with an improbable 89-87 victory.
“Pretty hurt right now,” UCLA guard Bryce Alford said after the Bruins went from 13-0 to 0-1, even if the latter record was just in Pac-12 Conference play. “It’s going to hurt, especially the way we lost.”
Alford missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity with 8.9 seconds left and the Bruins (13-1 overall, 0-1 Pac-12) holding a one-point lead, providing the opening that Brooks needed.
But the bigger issue was Oregon’s game-ending 15-5 run after UCLA had taken an 82-74 lead with 31/2 minutes left. Guard Payton Pritchard buried a three-pointer that pulled the Ducks (12-2, 1-0) to within 87-86 before making the assist that resulted in the winning basket and allowed Oregon to extend its homecourt winning streak to 34 games.
“We lost that game because we didn’t defend the last three minutes and 47 seconds,” Steve Alford said. “That was the lesson that I want the guys to learn.”
UCLA’s collapse negated a late surge by Ball, who made three consecutive three-pointers as part of the Bruins’ 15-0 run midway through the second half that transformed an eight-point deficit into a seven-point lead. Ball also spun through the lane for a layup that had given the Bruins an 87-83 lead before the Ducks rallied.
All the freshman point guard could do after Brooks’ wild shot was to sit on the scorer’s table and wait for officials to sort out how much time was left for one final play. It was Ball’s first defeat since the final game of his junior season at Chino Hills High, ending a personal 48-game winning streak.
“I’d trust that guy with my life,” Bryce Alford said of Ball, who scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half and finished with six assists. “He’s a big-time player and he makes big-time plays in big games, so we always know at some point he’s going to take the game over.”
Bryce Alford made six of 10 three-pointers on the way to 20 points but missed the only free throw he took, an anomaly for someone who entered the game shooting 87% from the foul line. He sighed before answering a question about the missed opportunity.
“It’s something I’ve always been really good at and the basketball doesn’t bounce your way all the time,” Alford said. “You just have to regroup and if I get in that situation again, I’m confident I’ll make it.”
UCLA center Thomas Welsh was strong in his return from a four-game absence caused by a bruised right knee, finishing with 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
Brooks scored 23 points for the Ducks, who converted their final basket in scramble mode because they didn’t have any timeouts left after Alford’s missed free throw.
It was the end to an epic back-and-forth battle but also a beginning of sorts. The teams will meet again in February at Pauley Pavilion in a game that could go a long way toward determining the Pac-12 champion.
“With their explosiveness, I still think they’re the team to beat,” Oregon Coach Dana Altman said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. Offensively, they’re a level above us right now and we’re going to have to work really hard to hang around them and try to catch them at some point and time.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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