It was a tough slog for Bruin fans, who saw their team overcome a 19 point deficit in the first-half. The Bruins took their first lead 72-70, with only 4:01 left in the second-stanza, when Aaron Holiday drained a three. UCLA (22-3, 9-3 Pac 12) never relinquished the lead and defeated first-place Oregon (21-4, 10-2 Pac 12), 82-79 in front of a sellout crowd of 13,659 delirious fans.
“We’ve had some games between us,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “[Oregon coach] Dana [Altman], probably isn’t happy, but I wasn’t very happy a couple months ago.”
“We joked over the summer that the games we’ve coaches against each other have been just like this. I told him before the game that I like watching his team more than I like playing them. That’s how much respect I have for him.”
“To get a win this way, I’m just so proud of my team. We’ve talked about trust all year and we just continue to trust our guys. We didn’t get into a great flow in the first half.”
“Arguably Lonzo’s [Ball] toughest 20 minutes to start the game and then maybe one of his better 20 minutes to end the game. That’s how special he is. We fought down 19, to an elite team, to come back and find a way to win, is a pretty special night.”
The Bruins had five players score in double figures and Ball had a double-double. After a tough start, Ball ended up scoring 15 points and came down with a team high 11 boards. In stark contrast to Ball’s usual game, he only had one assist.
Holiday also scored 15 points and chipped in three assists. Center Thomas Welsh had 12 points and eight rebounds. Guard Bryce Alford scored 12 points and had a team high four assists. Guard Isaac Hamilton had 11 points.
Freshman big Ike Anigbogu was outstanding off the bench. In 15 minutes of play, Anigbogu scored nine points, had seven rebounds and three blocked shots.
UCLA’s improving defense was the element that helped turn the tide for the Bruins. Oregon shot 48.7 percent from the field in the first-half and 40 percent from the three. With UCLA’s tightening defense, the Bruins held the Ducks to shooting 33.3 percent from the field and from beyond the arc.
“We’ve made that defensive switch with Lonzo [Ball] periodically in the first game,” Alford said. “It was something we were thinking about doing in this game.”
“[Dillon] Brooks is an elite player and he made some phenomenal plays. Pretty much after the first four minutes of the second half we made that switch and Lonzo was on him for most of the second half.”
“We always talk about confidence. Most player’s confidence comes from making shots from an offensive standpoint. All we’ve done all year is make shots. This was a very good [Oregon] team with an elite defense and we are in the 80’s again, shooting 51 percent from the field. We’ve done that all year.”
“But I’ve been telling this team that you have to build that same confidence at the defensive end. It’s not easy, especially when they throw 48 at you in the first half and then to start the second half they scored 11 in three minutes.”
“We called timeout and I remember writing on the board that if they kept that pace they’d score 70. For whatever reason we strung together a couple of stops after that.”
Hopefully there will be another sellout boisterous crowd when the Bruins host Oregon State (4-21, 0-12 Pac 12) in Pauley Pavilion Sunday afternoon. Tipoff is scheduled for 2:00PM PST and will be televised nationally on FOX Sports 1 (FS1).
Alford and the whole team were inspired by the Bruin faithful who were on hand to root for the home team. Alford talked about the crowd in his post game presser.
“I thought our fans tonight were terrific,” Alford said. “In my four years, Pauley has never sounded like that. That’s the best it’s ever sounded since I’ve been here. The students have been terrific all year, and they were great again tonight.”