It was the end of the game and the veteran leader was at the line with a one point lead. He made both free throws and the "clean look" for a three pointer was missed. That was what happen in the DePaul v. #1 Villanova game. As I was watching this game, pulling for DePaul, thinking how close we were to having a shot at being #1. I had no idea our game was going to end the same way just with the reverse result. That luck/skill is what separates champions from very good teams.
However, I don't feel that bad about the loss. Oregon, unlike the 7-7 DePaul, was a ranked team. They were also a team much better than their rankings since their losses came early in the season when their best player, Dillion Brooks, did not play or was limited to a few minutes. Not saying I feel good but this was always going to be a tough game to win.
I guess I do feel good about one thing. I have heard some mild rumblings about Lonzo Ball. It is as if people don't understand that Ball is a unique best player in that he is selfless. Ball will always do what the team needs to win. So, while some will incredibly say Ball had a bad first half, without him, Oregon wins the game easily:
UCLA's collapse negated a late surge by Ball, who made three consecutive three-pointers as part of the Bruins' 15-0 run midway through the second half that transformed an eight-point deficit into a seven-point lead. Ball also spun through the lane for a layup that had given the Bruins an 87-83 lead before the Ducks rallied.
Our last four points were a drive and dish by Ball to Welsh and a drive and score by Ball. Ball did just about everything in the clutch and came so close to willing UCLA to a victory. The kid is amazing. As Bryce Alford said in the post-game interview on Lonzo:
He's a big time player and he makes big time plays in big games. We always know that at some point he is going to take the game over and today he did a great job of that in the second half.
So it wasn't Ball's "bad first half" or Bryce's missed free throws, why did we lose? Steve Alford said:
We were up with four minutes to go, but we lost that four minute game 17-8. The challenge isn't whether we can make free throws or make shots, but if we can get stops. I thought we really defended through the first 15 minutes of the second half. That's the way we are capable of guarding. Then in the last five minutes we didn't and I think that was the difference.
The numbers bear this out to a certain extent. The offense was there:
The Bruins came in as the nation's best shooting team and fourth-best beyond the arc, and they nearly hit those marks by going 34 of 64 overall (53.1 percent) and 11 of 25 (44.0 percent) on 3-pointers.
The lack of defense also hurt in the first half as well as the last five minutes:
Oregon beat the Bruins at their own game in the first half, pushing a 100-point pace with 11 assists on its first 14 field goals and shooting 7 for 14 from 3-point range.
I realize I am supposed to wax poetically like Gbruin use to or Joe does in his Sunday morning quarterback after football games. In all honesty, though, the game went pretty close to the way I thought it would. I wrote of Oregon's advantages and said but UCLA has Lonzo Ball. I was almost right. That said the last word goes to Oregon Coach Dana Altman who correctly stated:
With their explosiveness, I still think they're the team to beat. We've got a lot of work to do. Offensively, they're a level above us right now and we're going to have to work really hard to hang around them and try to catch them at some point and time.
Steve Alford has the horses, especially a thoroughbred named Lonzo Ball, to win it all. One narrow road loss to the preseason favorite should be little more than a blip. But, it is up to Steve to make sure that's all it is for this very good team to become great.