Senior Thomas Welsh was playing his last game at home in a four-year career, which has represented the Four Letters as well as any player ever has. But, the focus was on the junior Aaron Holiday who deserves to be Pac-12 Player of the Year. As Steve Alford said:
I think he is, in my mind, the Pac-12 Player of the Year. It’s one of two guys – it’s either (Deandre) Ayton or it’s Holiday. I think that’s clear now with two weeks to go now. Obviously Ayton is on a team that is leading the league, and I think he’s very special and has had a special year, but nobody has meant more to their team than what Holiday has meant for us. Our plus-minus when he was on the floor had to be somewhere between 15 and 20 and we were up by seven or eight.
As the AP tells it:
UCLA blew a double-digit lead in the second half when its star guard Aaron Holiday left the game in foul trouble. But he came back in time to rescue the Bruins and lead them to an overtime victory.
Holiday scored 29 points and Kris Wilkes added 19 to lead UCLA to an 86-78 overtime victory over the Ducks in a Pac-12 Conference game Saturday night.
In the extra period, Holiday completed a 3-point play to give UCLA 77-73 lead with three minutes left. Gyorgy Goloman added a free throw and Thomas Welsh drilled a 3-pointer to make it 81-73 a minute later. The Ducks cut it to 81-78 but Wilkes, Holiday and Prince Ali made five free throws in the final minute to seal it.
Holiday shot 9 of 13 from the field, had six assists and played down the stretch in the second half with four fouls. He scored 20-plus points for the 14th time this season. The junior guard is currently fourth in scoring (19.0 per game) in the Pac-12 this season. Wilkes set a career-high with five 3-pointers.
Holiday’s importance was explained by his absence as the LA Times points out.
The Bruins had appeared on their way to a comfortable victory midway through the second half when they used a 9-0 run to take a 59-48 lead. The crowd was roaring until Holiday drove toward the basket and was called for an offensive foul. It was Holiday’s fourth foul, forcing him to the bench with 11:45 left.
The next five minutes constituted one lowlight after another for UCLA. Jaylen Hands airballed a three-pointer, Chris Smith was called for a charge on an out-of-control drive, and Hands threw a cross-court pass five feet over the head of the nearest teammate.
Oregon rolled up a 13-0 surge that gave the Ducks a 61-59 lead before Welsh answered with a three-pointer in the corner that briefly pushed the Bruins back ahead by a point.
More on Holiday from the best UCLA beat writer Thuc Nhi Nguyen:
When Holiday returned, the Bruins were clinging to a one-point lead that quickly turned into a four-point deficit. He drained a jumper with 3:15 that was the first of four straight made field goals that put UCLA up two with 1:07 to go. The point guard made two of them and assisted on another, a 3-pointer from Jaylen Hands.
The game itself was a three-point fest in the first half as Ben Bolch points out:
The first half was like a college version of the NBA’s three-point shootout being held across town at Staples Center as part of All-Star weekend. There was allegedly defense being played, though its impact was negligible as Oregon made seven of 13 three-pointers (53.8%) and UCLA made nine of 18 shots from beyond the arc.
Holiday was a great symbol of how ridiculous the three-point shooting was:
The teams combined for 72 3-point attempts. Holiday took all nine of his first shots from beyond the arc, collecting 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting before he even took a two-point shot.
While Holiday was the star, it was Thomas Welsh’s night for emotion. It was nice that many stars were in attendance:
Welsh, one of four UCLA seniors, logged his 16th double-double of the season with his 14-point, 14-rebound effort. Kris Wilkes had 19 points, nailing a career-high five three-pointers in the win against Oregon (17-10, 7-7).
Welsh’s 16 double-doubles this season are the most in any season by a UCLA player since Kevin Love had 23 double-doubles during his freshman year in 2007-08.
Love was on hand at the game Saturday night, taking a tour of the school’s Mo Ostin Basketball Center prior to the game (which has the Kevin Love Athletic Performance Center located on the building’s second story).
TJ Leaf and Ike Anigbogu were also attending. Welsh was not just playing well but fired up:
It’s my last home game, I’m a senior, it’s Senior Night. You have five minutes left, the game’s tied. It’s just about leaving everything you have out there on the court. I think we did a really great job of that. Just tried to get some guys fired up and get a little run going. We did a really good job of putting some points on the board and closing that game out really well.
Welsh was emotional in his way on his last game in Pauley:
I really can’t put it into words. My time here has been a dream come true. It’s been more than I could’ve asked for. To be able to finish like that with a win, with my family all here, it really doesn’t get any better than that. I’m so grateful to the UCLA family and everything all the people here have done. It’s just been incredible, really.
Thank you, Thomas and Aaron!