The NCAA tournament will be here before we know it, and Saturday's contest between Oregon and UCLA was a must-win for both bubble teams.
The Bruins defended their home court with a strong second half during which they never trailed, defeating the Ducks 72-63 at Pauley Pavilion. After Jalil Abdul-Bassit hit one of his career-high seven 3-pointers to make it a 55-53 game with 10:18 to play, the Bruins answered right back to build their lead up to seven points with 7:18 left to play. They never looked back, outscoring the Ducks 17-10 during the final stretch of the game.
The loss snapped a streak of four consecutive wins for the Ducks (18-8, 8-5 Pac-12), who had appeared to have found their rhythm with six wins in their last seven games.
In addition to his big day from beyond the arc, Abdul-Bassit also scored a career-high 24 points while Joseph Young added 18 points. Dwayne Benjamin led Oregon with seven rebounds, but had a quiet night from the field with just four points.
Abdul-Bassit's shooting even caught the attention of a UCLA fan after the game.
Older UCLA fan grabs Jalil postgame and says "You hit all those shots. You should transfer here."— Tyson Alger (@tysonalger) February 14, 2015
For the Bruins, Norman Powell led the way with 23 points and five rebounds, including the possible dunk of the year at the end of the first half. Kevon Looney turned in his 13th double-double of the year with 18 points and 11 rebounds. As a team, the Bruins dominated the paint, out-scoring the Ducks 34-16 from down low while out-rebounding Oregon 38-24.
Oregon's NCAA tournament hopes aren't dashed just yet, but they'll have an uphill battle to close out the year with some tough opponents.
Ducks must now beat Utah to get an at-large without a big run in Vegas, IMO, unless Ducks somehow win @ Stanford, Cal and OSU.— Will Rubin (@_WillRubin) February 14, 2015
The Bruins set the tone early, hitting four of their first five shots to jump out to a 10-2 lead in the first two minutes of the game. The Ducks were able to settle down after a timeout and find their rhythm, going on an 18-4 run to erase UCLA's early lead.
Abdul-Bassit hit his fourth 3-pointer of the first half to give Oregon a 28-21 lead. Abdul-Bassit's hot start from beyond the arc had him on pace to break Oregon's school record for 3-pointers made in a game. He would end up hitting 7-of-12 shots from 3-point range.
Abdul-Bassit is on pace to break Tajuan Porter's record for 3pt. FGs made in a game (10-of-12) vs. Portland State (11-12-06)— Josh Schlichter (@joshschlichter) February 14, 2015
UCLA jumped back out in front thanks to a 10-0 run with back-to-back 3-pointers from Gyorgy Goloman and Bryce Alford. The Bruins hit 11-of-27 shots from beyond the arc, playing much of the game from the perimeter.
Norman Powell capped off the first half for UCLA by splitting the defense with a dribble through his legs to clear the path for a big dunk as the Bruins took a 41-40 lead going into the half.
Had it not been for Abdul-Bassit, who had 16 points in the first half, the deficit might have been much larger for Oregon. Fortunately, the Ducks hit eight 3-pointers as a team to keep pace with the Bruins, including four alone from Abdul-Bassit.
The Ducks got off to a slow start in the second half, missing six of their first eight shots from the field, allowing UCLA to slowly build up a 53-48 lead.
Oregon shot just 39.3 percent during the day and struggled to get baskets at crucial times during the second half while trying to mount a comeback. Their 3-point shooting which they heavily relied on during the first half, went cold as the Ducks shot just 3-of-11 from beyond the arc during the second half.
Jordan Bell, normally a dominating presence in the paint for the Ducks, fouled out of the game with 3:12 left. Bell finished the day with just two rebounds and no points or blocks.
I asked Altman if he worried Jordan Bell has hit freshman wall. "No, he just needs to refocus."— Steve Mims (@SteveMims_RG) February 14, 2015
After Elgin Cook missed two free throws at the line, Kevon Looney drove to the rim to give UCLA a nine point lead, their largest of the day. That swing was enough to put the game out of reach for the Ducks, who struggled at the free throw line all day hitting just 8-of-14 shots.
Oregon now returns home to Eugene to face Colorado on Wednesday and No. 11 Utah on Sunday. The atmosphere on Sunday afternoon promises to be electric as the Ducks are expecting a capacity crowd for their final home game of the year.