Believe it or not, the Oregon men's basketball team sits 15-5 overall and is now tied with California for the top spot in the Pac-12 Conference standings with a 6-2 conference record after their rousing 75-68 win over UCLA Saturday afternoon at Matthew Knight Arena.
Never mind the fact the Ducks trailed the Bruins by 13 at halftime, posting a hideous 22.6 percent field goal percentage, while getting out-rebounded 26 to 16 at the break.
All transgressions were forgiven in the second half, as the Ducks used a 15-2 run to inspire a spirited comeback that clinched their fourth straight win and a second consecutive series sweep versus conference opponents.
"I really thought the start of the second half was critical," said Oregon head coach Dana Altman, who expressed disappointment in his team's lack of passion and effort going in to halftime.
"We got a couple of shots down and the [full court] press really energized us. The crowd was unbelievable -- the students got in to it once we finally gave them something to cheer about."
The 10,830 in attendance Saturday came to their feet after Garrett Sim converted a four-point play when he was fouled before hitting a three-pointer in the face of UCLA's Jerime Anderson, cutting the UCLA lead to 37-30 with 18:47 left to play. Another three by Sim the next trip down the floor for the Ducks made it a game, underscoring Oregon's tremendous start to the second half.
"After that ‘And-1', I knew if I got the next open look, I'm definitely going to take it," said Sim, who finished 16 points. "Anytime I get an open three, I'm going to shoot it with confidence and that's what I was doing."
Confidence for the Ducks also permeated to the free throw line, where as a team, Oregon converted 28 of 32 attempts from the charity stripe. Conversely, UCLA's woeful 10-for-21 performance from the line doomed the Bruins in their attempt to stave off the furious Oregon comeback. That stat, combined with UCLA's inability to sufficiently handle the Ducks' full court pressure in the second half, gave Oregon the requisite ingredients to claw their way back in to the contest.
"Our press really gave us a lot of energy," said Oregon junior forward E.J. Singler, who finished with a career-high 26 points, of which, 16 came from 17 attempts from the foul line.
"I thought defensively we really stepped it up...I thought the team showed a lot of toughness and a lot of heart down the stretch, fighting back, getting back in to the game, then finishing it. Anyone can comeback from a deficit, but really coming back and winning it is a big step."
For Altman, other than his team's outstanding free throw shooting and enlivened full court pressure, the unsung heroes of the game were senior guard Devoe Joseph and junior center Tony Woods, whose combined defensive efforts helped kindle his team's second half charge.
"Tony inside, he is just changing our defense with his blocking shots and intimidating people in the middle," said Altman. "And then Devoe really got after [Lazeric] Jones...If we would have just exchanged baskets there, it wouldn't have worked, and Devoe really turned it up and gave us a much better defensive effort that second half."
The Ducks will take the floor again a little over a week from Saturday as they face the Oregon State Beavers next Sunday afternoon in the first Civil War matchup between the two schools this season. When asked if he felt like his team was the most dangerous in the conference, Singler admitted that he and his teammates were playing like it, though was quick to address the immediate challenge that lies ahead.
"We still have a tough one next Sunday against the Beavers," remarked Singler. "They're just as dangerous and they're playing really good. Their stats really don't say it, but they're a really dangerous team and they can beat anyone in the conference."
Tip-off against the Beavers is set for 3:30 p.m. Pacific and can be seen live on ROOT Sports (FSN).
Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney
Second Half Spark Fuels Oregon Comeback
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