Ducks Drop Heart Breaker

After 14 lead changes and 11 ties, the Oregon Ducks and the USC Trojans did their best to entertain the 2,564 fans who turned out to watch the teams play at McArthur Court on Thursday, but many of them filed out of Mac Court dejected and disappointed as the Ducks dropped the contest 87-84. Both the Ducks and there fans were left pondering what could have been.

"We played well enough in some ways to win it and yet we didn't get it," said Coach Paul Westhead after the game.

The Ducks (16-11, 7-8), who led at halftime 47-46, found themselves clawing back against the Trojans for much of the first and second halves until the waning seconds of the game. Like two heavy-weight boxers, the Ducks and Trojans (15-11, 9-6) seemed to go blow-for-blow in the second half as Oregon fell behind early but recovered to climb within one after senior Lindsey Saffold, a seldom used junior college transfer connected on two free throws to make the score 78-77 with six minutes left. Saffold, who scored all of her four points late in the second half, provided a huge lift off of the bench, but the Trojans continued to answer each Oregon basket. After a Trojan turnover, Oregon finally regained the lead on a deep three-pointer from Micaela Cocks, with a little more than two minutes remaining in the game.

USC then tied it at 82 with two free-throws from forward Christiana Marinacci. Briana Gilbreath then got fouled on USC's next possession. She sank one free-throw, to put the Trojans up 83-82 with 1:20 left, but she missed the second free-throw and USC grabbed the offensive rebound. But USC turned the ball over on a shot clock violation with 50 seconds remaining. The Ducks couldn't get a bucket on their next possession and were forced to put Ashley Corral on the line with 16 seconds left. Corral made the first free-throw to make it 84-82 and missed the second, but the loose ball deflected off of Oregon. Corral went to the line again, missing her first free-throw, but connecting on the second to 85-82. On the inbounds, Nia Jackson drove the length of the court and laid the ball in to cut the lead to 85-84. The Ducks fouled Corral with 4.5 seconds left and she made two free-throws to make it an 87-84 ball game. After a timeout, the Ducks turned the ball over on the inbounds play and the final buzzer sounded.

"There were just some offensive rebounds that they got on their end and some put backs that probably hurt us as far as momentum-wise," Taylor Lilley said. "It was kind of a back-and-forth battle."

The Ducks know they let this one slip away. Oregon didn't allow USC to score a field-goal in the final 4:40 of the game, but the Trojans were able to capitalize from the free-throw line as they went 11-for-14 in the second half and 16-for-22 for the game. Oregon also turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and finished with 16 total turnovers.

"They played well enough to win, but we made enough errors that we didn't win," Westhead said. "That's the hardest feeling to have in a game. This one is hard to swallow."

"It was right there for us to take, there were just moments were we just let it slip," Lilley said. "I think in the first half too I think we could have taken care of the ball a little bit better."

Lilley paced Oregon in the first half with 14 and she finished the game with a team-high 22 points on 7-of-19 shooting including 4-for-8 from the three-point line. She also had five assists and grabbed six rebounds. But despite her production, Lilley was limited for much of the night by the 6-foot-1 Gilbreath.

"I just think the ball wasn't going in the hoop as easily as it has the past couple of games," Lilley said.

The Ducks had four players in double digits as Cocks scored 16, Nia Jackson finished with 13 and Jasmin Holliday added 10 points.

USC finished with five players in double figures. The Trojans were led by Ashley Corral, who finished with a game-high 23 points and Gilbreath, who finished with 20 points.

The Ducks, currently in sixth place, now face second-place UCLA (18-7, 11-3) in what will be Oregon's last home basketball game at McArthur Court. After a rough roadtrip to the Bay Area last weekend, in which the Ducks lost to both the Stanford Cardinal and the California Golden Bears, Oregon is now amidst a three-game losing streak, but Westhead said his girls have learned throughout the season how to bounce back from tough losses.

"Maybe this is exactly what we need to be a team that can come out and win on Saturday and move forward for the rest of the season and be a better team," Westhead said. "They sure have found out how to take some tough losses." Westhead also mentioned that his players have never once begun to feel sorry for themselves or failed to recover after a demoralizing loss such as this one.

"I don't know if I need to do anything special, but we'll try and address how to come out ready and confident to play the Bruins," Westhead said.

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