Jaylen Hands joyfully leaped into the air, his kinetic energy plunging into Chris Smith. Just one flying body bump didn’t seem sufficient given the circumstances, so Hands went airborne again a few moments later and smashed into David Singleton.
As their UCLA teammates bounced into the tunnel leading to the locker room, arms waving and voices throaty, Hands and Smith lingered on the court inside Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena along with Kris Wilkes and Prince Ali. The players draped their arms around one another to savor this moment, this most unlikely of comebacks.
The Bruins trailed by 17 points with less than seven minutes to play in the second half. They were down by nine with 51 seconds left.
None of it mattered.
In what might have been the most improbable turnaround in the school’s illustrious basketball history, the Bruins stormed back Thursday night for an 87-84 overtime victory over the stunned, silenced Ducks.
It was the largest deficit overcome in the final minute of a Pac-12 Conference game and ties the sixth-largest deficit overcome in the final minute in Division I history, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“This is highway robbery, baby!” Ali shouted as he left a jubilant locker room where his teammates had shouted his name.
UCLA, 10-6 overall and 3-0 in the Pac-12, kept topping itself with one implausible play after another on the way to its third consecutive victory under interim coach Murry Bartow.
Bruins freshman center Moses Brown, who entered the game making 36.5% of his free throws, sank the first of two attempts with 19 seconds left in overtime, extending UCLA’s lead to 87-84. Brown missed the second, but it didn’t matter.
After Oregon’s Louis King missed a corner three-point shot and the ball deflected out of bounds off the Ducks with two-tenths of a second left, all the Bruins had to do was inbound the ball to start the celebration.
“We just believed we could do something crazy,” Hands said after finishing with 16 points and seven assists to go with six turnovers. “I’m pretty sure none of us envisioned it to happen like that, but we just kept going play by play and made it happen.”
The wildest sequence started with 2.6 seconds left in regulation and the Bruins trailing by three points. Hands made one free throw and intentionally missed the second, throwing the ball off the back of the rim.
“I’m surprised I did it that good,” said Hands, who had never practiced missing a free throw intentionally. “That was the best miss of my life.”
Smith, who was positioned outside the three-point arc, raced toward the basket and collected the loose ball, laying it in to tie the score at 80-80 with seven-tenths of a second left while getting fouled by Oregon’s Payton Pritchard.
“I just ran in there and I saw two guys collapse on Moses,” Smith said. “He was reaching out for the ball, tipped it and it dropped right in front of me.”
After his teammates mobbed him along the baseline in celebration, Smith stepped to the free-throw line and exhaled before bending his knees and releasing the ball. The free throw missed and the teams headed to overtime.
The Ducks (9-6, 0-2) gathered themselves and appeared to quell the insanity unfolding around them. Oregon took a four-point lead with less than three minutes left in the extra period after UCLA reverted to some of the sloppiness that had put it in such a deep hole. Jalen Hill committed an offensive foul and Hands forced a three-pointer that was off the mark.
The balance of the game belonged entirely to the Bruins, who scored the final seven points. Ali followed two free throws with a driving layup to tie the score at 84-84 with 1:38 left.
As Bartow crouched in what looked like a defensive stance on the far end of the court, King (22 points) lost the ball on an attempted dunk. Ali grabbed the rebound and the ball eventually found Hands, whose jumper rolled in with 47 seconds to go, breaking the deadlock.
Brown’s free throw provided some insurance for a team that won despite some long stretches of ragged play. The Bruins committed 23 turnovers and made eight of 24 three-pointers.
Hands literally made sure the Bruins kept their chin up, walking over and clutching Brown’s neck to reposition it early in the overtime after Brown had thrown the ball out of bounds.
“I didn’t want him to feel down,” Hands said. “You know, we all made mistakes that game.”
Ali finished with 18 of his team-high 22 points in the second half and overtime, making three of his four three-pointers over the latter span. Brown and Hill each logged double-doubles, Brown with 10 points and 11 rebounds and Hill with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Their NCAA tournament hopes seemingly shot just over a week ago, the Bruins are off to their best Pac-12 start since they won their first five conference games during the 2012-13 season. That was also the last season they won the conference regular-season title.
There was already something to celebrate Thursday, Bartow in the midst of the jumping and the dancing in the locker room.
“I don’t know about the dancing,” Hands said, “but he was in there jumping with us.”