When Oregon nearly gave up a late double-digit lead on Thursday at USC, it was only natural to wonder how they would handle another close road game. They handled it well. In a close game at Pauley Pavilion, it was UCLA, owners of a ten-game winning streak, that fell apart down the stretch as the Ducks slammed the door on the Bruins, 76-67.
The bulk of the game played out like a championship heavyweight fight, with two teams trading punches, never being able to gain a large advantage. Oregon goes ahead by four, only for UCLA to tie it up. The Bruins inch up by six, only for Oregon to immediately get it back. Neither teams went on an extended run, until Oregon clamped down defensively and went on an 8-0 run at the three-minute mark to put the Ducks ahead by nine with a minute to go.
Both teams shot 45% from the field, but rebounding and turnovers proved to be the difference for the Ducks. Oregon outrebounded UCLA by ten--including 11 offensive boards, and had a 10-2 second chance point edge on the Bruins. Oregon was't great with 15 turnovers, but forced UCLA, who had been averaging a league-best 11 a game, into 15 of their own, including two during the deciding 8-0 run where UCLA simply threw the ball away trying to inbound.
As the Ducks held a nine-point lead with a minute to go, Johnathan Loyd missed three free throws to give UCLA an opening. But E.J. Singler, Dominic Artis, and Damyean Dotson picked Loyd up, going 6-6 late to seal the deal.
Tony Woods, who was questionable with the flu, had his best game of the season, dominating an undersized UCLA front line for 18 points on 8-9 shooting. Artis added 14, Doston 11, and Arsalan Kazemi had 12 and 11 rebounds.
Travis Wear was a pest for UCLA, scoring 17 points by making every mid range jumper he wanted. Norman Powell had 11 while Shabazz Muhammad, who didn't start after being late for practice yesterday, and Kyle Anderson had ten apiece.
Oregon has had the toughest early-conference schedule of any school in the conference. They have come out of it 5-0, holding the two marquee wins in the conference over Arizona and UCLA while being done with both teams. While they won't win every league game, they'll be favored in just about all of them from here on out.
The question is no longer simply whether Oregon can make it back to the NCAA Tournament this season. It's can they win a Pac-12 Championship and get a protected seed because, from where we stand, the Ducks have to be the favorites for both of those accomplishments.