There wasn't much opportunity for that enthusiasm to be exhibited early as the Bruins built a lead that would reach nine points after the first 12 minutes of play. Relying on the quickness of guard Nikki Blue and the long range shooting touch of Lisa Willis, the visitors were intent on repeating their earlier victory over the Ducks in Los Angeles.
Blue's quickness allowed her to collapse back into the interior and create a double-team nearly every time Oregon got the ball inside. Her efforts led to three first half steals and contributed to nine first half Duck turnovers. Willis showed a willingness to shoot the three from anywhere north of Creswell, making her first three attempts as the Bruins built their lead.
Just as quickly as it is possible for relative fortunes to change, they did. Senior guard Brandi Davis was the catalyst. Though she missed her first six attempts, she established a threat from the outside the Bruins had to address, and that alone opened up space on the floor for the Ducks to begin running their offense more fluidly. It is crucial to note though not one of those first six attempts was good, each came from within the flow of the offense and were taken when the Bruin defense had become unbalanced.
Once her shot started to fall, the Bruins were on their heels. And oh my, did they start to fall - ten of her next thirteen shots landed on the scoreboard. Several from behind the three point arc, a lay-up in transition, a particularly sweet feed from Corrie Mizusawa – who led the team with nine assists, on a backdoor baseline cut for a reverse lay-up, this was foot-stompin' stuff.
From the nine-point deficit, Davis sparked a 15-4 run that gave the Ducks a halftime lead of 33-31.
UCLA was able to regroup after the break and the second half was as fine a women's collegiate basketball game as has been played in Mac Court in some time. Nikki Blue, Amanda Livingston and Lisa Willis anchored a Bruin offense that kept pressure on Oregon until the final minutes of the game, even though the Ducks were able build a ten-point lead on three occasions. Willis led UCLA in scoring with 24 and tied with Blue for the rebounding lead with six. Blue and Livingston each added 15 points for the Bruins.
Once Davis started shooting well from the outside - her totals for the night; a career high 28 points on 10-for-19 from the field, 6-for-13 on three-point attempts - the paint opened up for the Duck forwards, leading to 20 offensive rebounds. For the game, Oregon out rebounded the Bruins by 20, 50-30, led by Catherine Kraayeveld's eleven.
Defensively, Oregon held the Bruins to a 37% shooting night on 25-for-67. While stating the obvious in saying Davis "had one of her best offensive games" Oregon coach Bev Smith prefaced her post game comments to OSN that Davis also "had one of her best defensive games."
Make no mistake, however, it was the spark Davis brought to the offense that facilitated a better transition game than the Ducks have shown lately, and forced the Bruins into more of a half-court game where the Ducks were better able to defend and rebound.
In the final minutes, missed free-throws and turnovers against the Bruins full court press kept the game closer than perhaps it should have been, but that defense did perform well down the stretch, limiting the Bruins to only five points in the last three minutes.
As Corrie Mizusawa dribbled away the final seconds of the 77-71 win, there was no denying the game had been the best effort of the year for the Ducks. In earlier games – some wins, some losses - they had played well defensively. In earlier games, they had also rebounded well. But until Davis lit the fuse tonight, they had not demonstrated quite the explosiveness offensively this team may have just learned they possess.
When those elements are all in place, it is a potent concoction indeed. A nicely timed discovery as well, as the stretch-run to the conference tournament is at hand. The next opportunity to use that elixir is Saturday as the USC Trojans are set to pay their visit to McArthur Court at 1:00 pm.