The rivalry that once generated a Lonzo Ball step-back 30-footer and a Dillon Brooks buzzer-beater produced something almost as compelling Saturday night.
Oregon appeared to be on the way to administering a smackdown of UCLA at Matthew Knight Arena when the Bruins delivered their own powerful counterpunch.
UCLA nearly came all the way back from an 18-point deficit in the second half, having an opportunity to tie the score in the final minute with the Ducks staggering.
But center Thomas Welsh missed a three-pointer with 46 seconds left and Oregon continually fouled the Bruins to keep them from getting even over the balance of a 94-91 triumph that ended with Aaron Holiday’s half-court heave being off the mark at the buzzer.
Holiday helped spark the comeback with 13 second-half points, playing the final 20 minutes after being limited to 10 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
“When I’m on the floor making plays, we’re a great team,” Holiday said after the Bruins (13-7 overall, 4-4 Pac-12 Conference) suffered a season-worst third consecutive loss. “When I’m not, you obviously saw what happened.”
After being pushed around for the game’s first 25 minutes, the Bruins finally pushed back. They came within 88-87 on Holiday’s spinning layup with 1:09 left before Oregon’s Troy Brown made two free throws.
UCLA then worked the ball to Welsh on a pick-and-pop play and he rose for a three-pointer that could have tied the score.
“Got a really good look,” said Welsh, who finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. “Just missed it.”
Oregon then fouled UCLA to ensure the Bruins couldn’t get a chance to tie the score during two later possessions. UCLA’s Alex Olesinski and Holiday each made the two free throws they were awarded, but Oregon’s Payton Pritchard countered with four free throws of his own to help the Ducks prevail in a battle of teams with flickering NCAA tournament hopes.
UCLA’s Kris Wilkes scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half and made two steals to complement the production of Holiday, who finished with 14 points and five assists.
“The first half, we were just asleep and we let them run over us,” Wilkes said. “The second half, I think it was tremendous. We played great, but we started too late to come back, especially at their house, and it took a toll on us.”
Pritchard scored 25 points for the Ducks (13-7, 3-4), who committed all eight of their turnovers in the second half.
UCLA was disjointed on offense in the first half and applied a casual approach on defense as the Ducks got easy baskets on the way to 24 first-half points in the paint.
“The start of the game was just really not anything we had talked about both offensively and defensively and I’m not sure why,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “That’s the hard part.”
Things went sideways less than five minutes into the game for the Bruins when Holiday was called for charging and then a dead-ball technical foul after some shoving that also involved the Ducks’ Elijah Brown, who was assessed an offsetting technical foul.
“He pushed me, I got his arm off me, just pretty much said, ‘What are you doing?’ and they gave me a tech,” Holiday said. “I don’t know why I got it, but I did.”
Holiday picked up his third foul with 8:24 left in the half and went to the bench until halftime after having scored one point in 10 minutes. His replacement at point guard, Jaylen Hands, collected five of his team’s nine first-half turnovers as the Ducks surged into a 52-38 halftime lead.
The Bruins nearly came all the way back, showing they were only half bad.
“We’ve just got to learn how to play the whole 40 minutes,” Wilkes said. “We played 20 minutes that game and they played the whole 40.”