Oh, yeah: Duck bastards.
The Oregon Ducks (22-7, 14-4) wrapped up their first Pac-10 title in 57 years (of course, the Pac-10 hasn't been called the Pac-10 for 57 years) by defeating the UCLA Bruins at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday, 65-62. UCLA fell to 19-10 overall, and 11-7 and 6th place in the Pac-10. Someone told me that is the worst Pac-10 finish ever for the Bruins (I don't know if that also goes back 57 years or only means since the Pac-10 itself was formed). If so, it certainly has to constitute a tremendously disappointing finish to a regular season in which the Bruins were seen as the preseason Pac-10 favorites by almost every prognosticator in the business.
The game itself was quite exciting, especially for the last 14 minutes. For the first 26 minutes, the game was more exciting if you were an Oregon fan, but the Bruins didn't play poorly. The Bruins started out in their motion and 1-2-2 matchup zone. They did a pretty good of disrupting Oregon's speed game, leaving a guard in the backcourt to harass the inbounds pass, keeping 3 men above the FT line and having Dan Gadzuric and TJ Cummings to keep pace with Chris Christoffersen. The Ducks fired up five 3s in their first 6 possessions against UCLA's 1-2-2 matchup zone and only made one of them.
Unfortunately, UCLA was as cold as Oregon. The Bruins were focused on getting the ball inside to Dan, and Jason Kapono, Billy Knight and Matt Barnes didn't seem to have any rhythm to their Js or short drives. Both teams struggled offensively until about the 12-minute mark, when Fred Jones fired in a pair of 3s and Luke Ridnour fired in one of his own as the Ducks went on a 9-2 run to give themselves a 19-12 lead. From that point on for the rest of the first half, the Bruins struggled to catch up as they trailed the Ducks by between 5-9 points.
Dan got the ball easily enough, and scored well and Matt, Jason and Billy also scored inside, though UCLA also missed their share of short shots, but Oregon's shooting really heated up as they hit four straight 3s at one point. At the 5:18 mark, Lavin switched his team into a more effective man d and Oregon only managed two baskets for the rest of the half. But UCLA made some unforced turnovers (Billy and Jason) and Oregon was able to take a 37-31 halftime lead. Yeoman work on the glass by Dan, Jason, Matt and a beastly TJ Cummings helped keep the game closer than it seemed to be.
At the start of the second half, UCLA tried to use its 1-4 offense, perhaps in an effort to throw the Ducks off. It didn't work. Rico Hines collared Fred Jones and the Ducks struggled against UCLA's man d. Lavin inserted Ced Bozeman back into the game at the 18:04 mark (Rico started both halves for SR day). Ryan Walcott came in at the 16:44 mark, replacing Billy. Dijon Thompson relieved Jason at the 14:38 mark. As the floor filled with freshmen, UCLA's defense got better and better. Andre Patterson replaced Dan at the 14:20 mark. TJ came in for Matt at the 13:44 mark.
UCLA had a press. UCLA had a great man d. UCLA's motion worked well too, though the Bruins continued to miss some easy shots and made some crucial turnovers in what became a grinding, possession type of game, which the Ducks aren't exactly used to unless they're playing USC. Over the course of the next 7+ minutes, four Bruin FR and one SO outscored the best team in the Pac-10 by a 10-9 margin. The Ducks were 3-11 against the FR, 0-5 from 3, and made 5 turnovers.
So much for the future. Now back to the present: The vets returned at about the 6 minute mark with Oregon holding a 54-51 lead (UCLA had actually taken the lead at the 7:40 mark for the first time since about 7 minutes into the first half on a Ryan Walcott 3 from the top of the key). Over those last 6 minutes, the vets almost played as well as the youngsters, except they couldn't get the big offensive rebounds when they counted. A clutch 3 by Matt and some more clutch play by Dan and Ryan (he came back into the game fairly quickly) couldn't overcome a huge offensive rebound by huge Chris Christoffersen and an even bigger offensive rebound by Fred Jones after missed Oregon shots. Oregon also got to shoot FTs and made four straight. UCLA missed some FTs at the end. With Oregon up 65-62, UCLA came down and got Ryan a wide open shot from 3, but he missed. He was 6-13 from 3 up until then for the season (.462) and had hit his only 3 of the game. Oh, well. That about sums it up.
The good news is, Oregon shot only 41.4% from the field, 32.3% from 3 and got outrebounded by a 36-29 margin. The bad news is, UCLA still lost. This will likely be the only time all season that Oregon gets defended so well and outrebounded and still comes away with the win. Star Fred Jones was a big reason. He hit some major, NBA-like clutch shots that no one could have guarded, though I'd have liked to see Rico, rather than Billy, guard him on the Ducks' last possession. Oregon also played good d on the Bruins, though UCLA once again had its share of unforced turnovers, missed FTs and missed layups. The Bruins hit only 40% of their FGs and 35.7% of their 3s. UCLA made 15 turnovers to Oregon's 12.
Big Dan led UCLA with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 2 assists. He's playing very well, but UCLA has had a .500 record since he started playing well. Maybe we should go back to shooting 3s.
Matt got 10 points and 5 rebounds, Jason had 7 points and 1 rebound and Billy finished with 4 points and 5 rebounds. The trio were a combined 8-24 from the field. Ick. Jason took a lot of bad shots and Matt had trouble finishing in the lane. Jason did play good d on Luke Jackson. Matt and Billy were pretty bad on d for their last game. These guys better play better or UCLA's season won't last much longer. Rico got 2 points, 2 rebounds and 2 steals in his final performance at Pauley.
Off the bench, Ced was mediocre, with 3 points (a clutch 3), just 1 assist and 4 turnovers. But his second-half defense was very good. TJ got 2 points, 5 rebounds and a steal and played good d as well. Dijon finished with 6 points and 5 rebounds, Ryan had 3 points and 2 assists and Andre added 3 points. All of them played great d, especially Ryan.
Fred Jones was Oregon's star with 22 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists. Luke Ridnour got 14 points and 5 assists, but really struggled when Ryan guarded him. Robert Johnson played well with 8 rebounds and good d, and James Davis, who beat Ryan out for a scholarship at Oregon, finished with 8 points.
The Bruins probably played one of their better games of the season, but couldn't beat the Ducks in the end. That probably encapsulates UCLA's season: Just not good enough at the end, when defense and team, cohesion counts more than talent. Jason and Billy lack the quickness to play good man d. With so much concern about keeping Dan in the game, Lavin's reluctance to play pressure d only increased since he was afraid, with good reason, that his vets would let too many people into the lane and get Dan in foul trouble. So he kept the FR on the bench too long this year and went with his SR (and JR) shooters, sacrificing defense for offense and not giving the FR enough time to develop. In the end, defense wins games. That's why UCLA won't win many, if any, more games for the season in the tournaments.
Isn't hindsight wonderful?
The Pac-10 Tournament starts Thursday. The NCAA Tournament starts a week after that.
But don't get your hopes up.