Jaylen Hands smiled as he skipped down the court, the crowd’s roar washing over him in an unlikely soundtrack.
The UCLA point guard was in the midst of a dream-like sequence. All his shots were going in during the second half Saturday night, shrinking his team’s once-sizable deficit on each possession.
Two free throws. Three three-pointers. A layup.
In a whirlwind of shot-making, Hands had scored 13 of his team’s 17 unanswered points, wiping out what had been a 19-point deficit and catapulting UCLA to a 90-83 victory over Oregon in the latest crazy finish involving these teams.
“It wasn’t any magical sets we were running,” interim Bruins coach Murry Bartow said. “He just made some incredible shots and some incredible plays.”
After scoring all 27 of his points in the second half, Hands slapped hands with courtside fans. Teammate David Singleton bounced over to throw an arm around his shoulder. Teammate Kenneth Nwuba all but leaped on his back as they disappeared down a hallway leading to the locker room.
“It felt good,” said Hands, who made eight of 11 shots in the second half and seven of eight three-pointers. “But I’ve got to give credit to my teammates. They were setting good screens and [pushing] the ball after rebounds.”
They also made almost every shot.
UCLA made 10 of 13 three-pointers (76.9%) on the way to 62 points in the second half. Kris Wilkes and Jules Bernard each finished with 20 points to help the Bruins (15-13 overall, 8-7 Pac-12 Conference) move into a tie with USC for fifth place in the conference standings.
The rivals are only 11/2 games out of second place heading into their showdown Thursday at Pauley Pavilion, putting them both well within reach of securing a top-four seeding and accompanying first-round bye for the Pac-12 tournament.
“We’ve just got to figure out, how can we package that second half?” Bartow said. “If we can figure out how to tie a ribbon around the second half as we move forward, then we’re a pretty good basketball team.”
The Bruins looked like they were headed toward more disappointment after Oregon (15-12, 6-8) shot 63% in the first half, the best mark this season for a UCLA opponent, and surged ahead 47-28 less than a minute into the second half on a three-pointer by Payton Pritchard.
But as the Ducks learned once again, no lead is safe in this rivalry.
Two seasons ago, UCLA lost an eight-point lead in the final 31/2 minutes of a loss at Oregon and the Ducks squandered a 19-point lead in a loss at Pauley Pavilion.
Last season, Oregon nearly lost all of an 18-point lead in a home victory over the Bruins, who had a chance to tie it in the final minute. UCLA completed an improbable comeback this season in Eugene, wiping out a 17-point deficit that was still nine points with 51 seconds left in an eventual overtime triumph.
UCLA’s comeback Saturday started with the Bruins down by 15 and less than 15 minutes to play. Reserve forward Alex Olesinski sparked UCLA’s 17-0 run with a layup. Hands scored 11 of the next 13 points, including three three-three pointers in a span of 85 seconds, to pull the Bruins into a 53-53 tie.
His fastbreak layup nudged them ahead 55-53 with 10:36 left. Oregon battled back, twice tying the score, before Bernard made a jumper in the paint to put UCLA up 64-62 with 6:34 remaining. The Ducks would never draw even again.
Oregon was as cold in the second half as it was hot in the first, shooting 38.7% and making only three of 17 three-pointers (17.6%) after halftime. The Ducks struggled to adjust to the Bruins’ switch from a 2-3 zone to a 3-2 in the second half. Bernard and Jalen Hill came off the bench to infuse energy into the Bruins’ defense.
“We just came out in the second half,” Wilkes said, “and got fired up.”
The Bruins played a second consecutive game without shooting guard Prince Ali, who was sidelined with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. They persevered just fine without him Saturday, especially over the final 20 minutes.
“I told the guys,” Bartow said, “it’s about as much fun as I’ve had in a half in a long, long, long time.”