Thomas Welsh patted the area around his heart before pointing to the roaring UCLA student section behind the baseline. He then turned toward the students on the other side of the court and repeated the gesture before hugging former teammate Isaac Hamilton, who had risen from his courtside seat to share in the moment.
Welsh ensured it was a fond farewell in his final home game Saturday night. The senior center sank a three-pointer as part of a late push that helped the Bruins emerge with a wild 86-78 overtime victory over Oregon at Pauley Pavilion.
“I really can’t put it into words,” Welsh said. “My time here has been a dream come true. To be able to finish like that with a win with my family all here, it really doesn’t get any better than that.”
Welsh’s three-pointer was part of a 7-0 run by UCLA that gave the Bruins an 81-73 lead, allowing Welsh to pump his arm a few times while heading back up the court. The Bruins (19-8 overall and 10-5 in the Pac-12 Conference) held on in the back-and-forth battle only after Oregon’s Paul White missed a three-pointer that could have tied it in the final minute of the extra period.
UCLA junior point guard Aaron Holiday scored 29 points in what could have also been his final home game, managing to avoid fouling out after picking up his fourth foul with 11:45 left in regulation. Welsh added 14 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two blocks for the Bruins, who have won six of their last seven games.
Both teams had a chance to go ahead in the final minute of regulation. UCLA’s Kris Wilkes (19 points) took a three-pointer that rattled in and out with 37 seconds left before the Bruins tapped the ball out of bounds to Oregon (17-10, 7-7). Ducks forward Mikyle McIntosh then missed a layup and the ball went out of bounds and was awarded to Oregon with 5.8 seconds left even though fans cheered a replay that appeared to show the ball going off a Ducks player.
Officials convened for a lengthy delay to watch the replay, eventually upholding their initial decision, much to the dismay of the booing crowd. But Oregon couldn’t capitalize. Elijah Brown missed a three-pointer just before the buzzer, and the game headed to overtime.
The Bruins had appeared on their way to a comfortable victory midway through the second half when they used a 9-0 run to take a 59-48 lead. The crowd was roaring until Holiday drove toward the basket and was called for an offensive foul. It was Holiday’s fourth foul, forcing him to the bench with 11:45 left.
The next five minutes constituted one lowlight after another for UCLA. Jaylen Hands airballed a three-pointer, Chris Smith was called for a charge on an out-of-control drive, and Hands threw a cross-court pass five feet over the head of the nearest teammate.
Oregon rolled up a 13-0 surge that gave the Ducks a 61-59 lead before Welsh answered with a three-pointer in the corner that briefly pushed the Bruins back ahead by a point.
What happened to UCLA needed no deep explanation.
“Aaron was on the bench,” Bruins coach Steve Alford said flatly.
Holiday re-entered the game but the Bruins’ struggles continued, turnovers sparking five consecutive points by the Ducks that gave them a 66-62 advantage with 31/2 minutes left.
The first half was like a college version of the NBA’s three-point shootout being held across town at Staples Center as part of All-Star weekend. There was allegedly defense being played, though its impact was negligible as Oregon made seven of 13 three-pointers (53.8%) and UCLA made nine of 18 shots from beyond the arc.
There were smiles but no tears about half an hour earlier when Welsh, GG Goloman, Ikenna Okwarabizie and Alec Wulf were recognized before their final home game. Welsh received the loudest ovation, waving to the crowd as he walked onto the court with his family.
“I was getting a little misty, I’m not going to lie, walking out there with my parents,” Welsh said.
He would cause the decibel level to rise even louder a few hours later.
Thursday at Utah, 6 p.m. PST, Huntsman Center, ESPN — The Bruins thoroughly outclassed Utah during an 83-64 victory at Pauley Pavilion in January, but the Utes are 10-2 at home and remain on the fringes of NCAA tournament discussions.
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