Eugene, OR – It was either an epic comeback by UCLA or an incredible breakdown by Oregon but the Bruins came back from a late 13-point deficit to edge the Ducks 87-84 in overtime. The crowd of 10,105 saw UCLA score 21 points, including five three-pointers, in the final 2:31 of regulation to eventually tie the game. UCLA held Oregon scoreless for the final 3:03 of overtime and scored the last seven points of the contest for the victory. Prince Ali, a 6-4 junior from The Bronx, was involved in much of the late comeback and led the Bruins with 22 points, connecting on 4-of-7 from deep. Louis King continued his improved play and led Oregon with 22 points and ten rebounds.
Oregon played their best first half and best 38 minutes of the season in this contest. They led 39-32 at the half. The lead could have been larger but for a Kris Wilkes three-pointer at the halftime buzzer. Oregon came out in the second half and extended their lead to 17 points (65-48) on a Paul White lay-in with 6:53 remaining. After King connected on a three-pointer with 2:31 left the Ducks had what should have been a comfortable 72-59 lead. But it wasn’t to be. Ali and Chris Smith hit back-to-back 3s for the Bruins to cut the lead to seven points. Oregon still led by 76-68 with 45 seconds left after Payton Pritchard connected on two free throws. However, UCLA point guard Jaylen Hands then quickly hit a three-pointer and after an Oregon turnover he was fouled attempting another three-pointer. He made all three foul shots and UCLA was quickly down only 76-74 with 33 seconds left. An Ali three-pointer after two free throws by Victor Bailey Jr. cut Oregon’s lead to 78-77 with five seconds remaining.
That set the stage for a dramatic conclusion and questionable decision. Pritchard was fouled and made both his attempts to put the Ducks up 80-77 with 3.3 seconds remaining. Oregon then elected to quickly foul Hands deep in the backcourt with 2.6 seconds left. Hands made his first free throw and intentionally missed the second. UCLA’s Smith then grabbed the rebound and scored with .04 seconds left to tie the game. He could have won the game as he was also fouled but missed the subsequent free throw.
Oregon took an 84-80 lead in overtime but then missed their last eight shots. A missed three from Pritchard would have given the Ducks a one-point lead with 23 seconds left and a three from the corner by King would have tied the game with six seconds remaining. Oregon made only two of their last 18 shots. As Coach Dana Altman said in the post-game press conference “That’s a gut punch…I’ve never had one like that and I know they haven’t”.
While this was a tough one to swallow for Oregon there were a few bright spots. King played his best game of his short career and is starting to show why he was so highly regarded. He shot an efficient 9-of-18 with 4-of-9 from deep. He reached double-figures in rebounds for the second straight game. Most of his shots looked good with a nice release with the exception of one corner three that he should have been ready to shoot long before he unsuccessfully did. The Ducks need King to perform consistently well the rest of the season.
Paul White continued to play well in the absence of Bol Bol and Kenny Wooten. Tonight the 6-9 senior scored 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting and grabbed five rebounds. He made only 1-of-4 3s but looked comfortable shooting and made several nice mid-range shots. He was his second straight solid game. Will Richardson was effective in his time at the point. The 6-5 freshman scored 11 points and added six assists against only one turnover. He has a bright future.
Oregon’s other point guard Pritchard often seems to be in a quandary in his offensive mindset. This year his offensive numbers have fallen off dramatically. His overall field goal percentage has dropped from 45 to 39 percent while his three-point percentage had fallen from 41 to 30 percent. Tonight Pritchard seemed unwilling to pull the trigger, going scoreless until he made the four throws in the last minute. He missed all six of his shots from the field including five from distance. Thought to be one of the top Pac-12 returning point guards Pritchard currently ranks only tenth in the conference with an assist rate of 24.4. 6-3 graduate transfer Ehab Amin provided defensive pressure that helped the Ducks into what was a comfortable lead much of the game. Amin only scored three points but generated offense for his teammates with his five steals and constant ball pressure.
With Bol gone and Wooten out Oregon needs contributions from 6-9 freshmen Francis Okoro and Miles Norris. Okoro played well tonight in a limited 12 minutes, scoring five points and making both his shots from the field. Norris, who is skilled athletically, looked out of sorts tonight. He had two potential rebounds go off his hands out of bounds and missed on an explosive dunk that should have been an easy lay-in. He also showed some strange free throw shooting, changing the height on his attempts while shooting 1-of-5.
UCLA’s Wilkes and Hands both declared for the NBA Draft last season and decided to head back to Westwood. From their uneven play thus far this season it appears that was a wise decision. Both are shooting in the 30 percent range from deep and need improvement there. Tonight Wilkes scored 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting, doing much of his damage from mid-range. He was only 1-of-5 from deep, his only made three-pointer was the one at the end of regulation when he shot quickly. He also committed seven turnovers. Hands shot an inefficient 5-of-15 including only 1-of-7 on 3s. He’s quick but plays out of control some and added six turnovers to the Bruins high total of 23. He did dish out seven assists.
Their 7-0 freshman center Moses Brown had a distinct size advantage on the smaller Ducks. Brown is agile, long and athletic, can score inside but doesn’t have any outside game. He had ten points and 11 rebounds and made 2-of-4 free throws. The two he made were important in the close contest. Brown is only shooting 37 percent from the charity stripe. You can see his potential but he’s clearly a work in progress.
Oregon’s loss puts them in a precarious position in the conference having dropped their first two games at home. USC comes to Eugene on Sunday after a tough overtime loss at Oregon State. The Ducks need a win before heading to Arizona and Arizona State for two tough road games next week. UCLA, now 3-0 in the conference, and 3-0 since they fired Steve Alford, heads to Corvallis to face Oregon State (2-0) also on Sunday.