UCLA knocks off Oregon in comeback fashion, and the Pac-12 is looking more dangerous than ever – CBSSports.com
The Ducks did just that for a while, but squandered a 19-point lead in a 82-79 loss to the Bruins.
With a red-hot start from Dillon Brooks, who finished with 19 points, Oregon silenced the home crowd in the first half. The stingy Ducks defense stifled the high-flying UCLA offense as the Bruins’ rhythm was amiss offensively, scrounging up just 39 points and notching zero fast-break points before halftime.
But the second half was a completely different story. The shots came pouring in as the friendly rims favored the home team, and Lonzo Ball came alive down the stretch to lead the team to a thrilling comeback victory.
Ball finished with 15 points and led the team in rebounding with 11 but only had one assist.
Here are four takeaways from the Bruins’ toppling of the Ducks:
1. UCLA proved it can overcome bad defense with good offense
This game wasn’t one where the Bruins turned on the defensive motor and got after Oregon to play catch-up. It was one where UCLA finally got its best player in Ball playing up to his potential and making everyone around him better when he caught fire.
Against a team like Oregon, which boasts the 16th most efficient adjusted defense in the country, the Ducks had no answer for UCLA’s spread attack in the second half. Five players scored in double figures to cap the night, so there wasn’t any one particular player to hone in on.
When Ball and Bryce Alford started stroking it from long-range, it opened up opportunities elsewhere when the defense keyed in on them. The quiet MVP of the night off the bench, Aaron Holiday, hit shot after shot down the stretch, including one that gave UCLA its first lead.
All told, UCLA hit nine 3-pointers. Yet it felt like each one came at a perfect time to stage the frantic comeback.
The incredible offense is something we’ve grown accustomed to with UCLA this season. Yet in losses to Arizona and USC, longer, more athletic teams have given the Bruins fits, particularly down low and in the paint. Thomas Welsh and T.J. Leaf combined for 20 points and more than held their own on the boards, outscoring Oregon in the paint 34-24.
That alone is a sign that this team is learning to overcome some struggles and game-planning around its weaknesses.
All season long the question has been whether a good offense can make up for a lackluster defense. The painted area against a team like the Ducks is a difficult one to find success in. But they got it done in other ways including the 3-point barrage late. At least for now, that burning question is answered.
2. This doesn’t affect Oregon’s long-term outlook at all
Two weeks ago Oregon was unquestionably the hottest team in the country with a winning streak that stretched nearly two months. Snags against Colorado and UCLA have brought them back to earth, but this last one doesn’t change the long-term ceiling of this team.
Here’s the total list of teams that have knocked off UCLA at home this season: Arizona
Oregon is a good basketball team. UCLA happens to be just as good. Both teams could very well be ending their seasons in Phoenix.
For a team like Oregon to go on the road and get up by 19 points is pretty amazing. And for them to nearly escape with a win is even more impressive. Say all you want about choking away a lead, but this was more on the way UCLA came back than how the Ducks gave it up.
It says a lot about the mettle of Dana Altman’s team, which, now just 10-2 in Pac-12 play, still has a legitimate shot at a conference crown. But more importantly, this team looks built for the postseason right now. It took a near miracle for UCLA to storm back from 19 points. The talent in the starting lineup and depth across the roster is an asset that can’t be overstated. Imagine what this team will look like in March.
3. Lonzo Ball was absurdly clutch
That’s not a sentence I envisioned writing midway through the first half. The Bruins looked borderline lifeless in large part because of a relative no-show from Ball in the first 20 minutes. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Ball just couldn’t find a rhythm. He missed all but one first half shot, and had two turnovers.
The second half run was a team effort, but Ball lead the charge to close on a 28-12 run over the final 12 minutes. It was a laser show at the Pauley Pavilion, and Ball was sending beams from Chino Hills. With the game hanging in the balance, he had the fortitude to take a stepback 3-pointer 6 feet off the line — and he nailed it.
Looking at his stat line with 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting and 11 rebounds won’t have scouts popping out of their seats. But seriously, have you watched this kid? I hesitate labeling 18 and 19-year-olds generational talents, but Ball is a special player with a special talent. The young man is an NBA talent even if his shot looks a little funky.
He struggled for a good portion of the night shooting then pulls up from 30 feet to seal the game. That should tell you everything you need to know about him and what the Bruins have in this kid.
4. The Pac-12 has three legitimate Final Four teams
At any given time, Arizona, Oregon or UCLA has each looked like the best team in the league.
While each has minor slumps at different points this season, all three look like they are rounding into shape. Arizona has won 15 of its last 16, Oregon 18 of its last 20, and UCLA 22 of 25. Right now we’re at the point in the season where every league team is knocking one another off. Come March, that’s going to pay dividends for a top-heavy league.
If you told me right now that Arizona, UCLA and Oregon all would have a shot for playing in Phoenix in a little over a month, it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest. On the whole, the Pac-12 isn’t the deepest. But the top three teams right now look absolutely lethal. No coach is going to be cheering when they draw one of these teams in the Big Dance.