The pessimistic take is that both teams have issues and neither was good. The optimistic one is what a great comeback! In reality, that was one of the more shocking things I have seen and could change the season.
Now, this was supposed to be a great game, but not this way. UCLA and Oregon were the preseason favorites in the Pac-12. It has not quite worked out that way. Oregon had injuries and is struggling while the Bruins have had coaching issues.
One of the reasons Steve Alford was fired is that he did not understand how to use his talented players. His teams regularly underachieved. This year, he did not use his talented bench properly. A good example was the use of David Singleton. In the first two games without Alford, Singleton had career highs.
In the first half, it looked like Bartow found a way to make the bench a negative. While UCLA is legitimately nine players, and arguably ten, deep, Bartow went 11 deep in the first half. At times, he went with Jaylen Hands and the end of the bench in the game at once. Kenneth Nwuma was -12 in just three minutes in the first half. The team looked lost and it turned a slim Bruins’ lead into a big deficit.
And, UCLA was a turnover machine in the first half. But, even with all the turnovers, the Bruins were winning...until the end of the bench went in. The effect was more serious then just the score. The Bruins looked fired up and emotional to start the game. Yes, it was very sloppy, but there was effort.
In the second half, Jalen Hill started for Smith, who seemed to have a number of turnovers, even though he officially only had one. However, the Bruins seemed dead. They looked like the Alford team that knew they were going to lose. The Oregon crowd was into it, but this was an Oregon team with eight guys who probably could not beat the UCLA team on talent. Okay, that’s not completely fair, but Oregon is closer to Liberty and Belmont on talent with all their injuries than it is to the Bruins.
UCLA did not have good spacing and Oregon was able to stop the Bruins from running. Oregon, on the other hand, was patient on offense and taking good shots. Coaching matters. Oregon had less talent, but better coaching. UCLA rarely took a good shot on offense and was all one-on-one (or more). Teamwork and coaching beats talent and athletes when the athletes don’t remotely resemble a team.
The game seemed to be over after Prince Ali went one on four for another UCLA turnover and a 13-point Oregon lead. But talent matters. The Bruins made a furious comeback. Wild threes went in. UCLA, a team with superior and rested talent, outplayed a tired Oregon team.
With 3:41 left, the Bruins was down 13. With 1:01 left, UCLA was down 9. The Bruins went to a small lineup with all guards and it seemed to work. UCLA’s talent came through. The Bruins would out score Oregon, 13-4, in the last minute to tie the game without an assist. Hands was the key. Hands hit a one three-pointer and went 4-5 at the free throw line with the best miss for UCLA in many years, if not ever.
But, let’s just go through the last seven seconds. After wasting ten seconds dribbling, or so it seemed, Hands missed. Somehow, Prince Ali got the rebound took an awkward off-balance three-point shot that went in with seven seconds left. All of a sudden, UCLA was down just one. Then, Oregon made two free throws to go up three. Knowing the Bruins needed a three, Dana Altman, a very good coach, fouled Hands before a three could be shot.
Using his bench, Bartow took out the small players and put in Brown and Hill for the free throw. Hands made the first. That set up an intentional miss on the second. This is not easy to do, but Hands did it perfectly and the ball bounced straight off the rim. The superior athlete Brown reached over his man to tip the ball and Chris Smith picked it up and was fouled making the game tying layup. Are you kidding me?! UCLA made up a nine-point deficit in one minute when the other team MAKES all their free throws? Smith missed the free throw, forcing the game to overtime.
In the OT, Oregon took a four-point lead, but Prince Ali brought the Bruins back with four straight points to tie the game and, then, Jalyen Hands made a jumper that turned out to be the game-winner with his feet straddling the three point line. Brown was fouled after a Oregon miss and UCLA held on to an amazing 3 point win.
I can’t do this justice. Yes, taking my UCLA hat off, this was not a well-played game by the Bruins. But as a UCLA fan, it was fun to see this team never give up and fight.
Player of the Game: He was terrible at times, but he came through in the clutch: Jaylen Hands. His stat line of 5-15, 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 6 turnovers is ugly. But he hit the big shots and perfectly missed the free throw that won the game. He also showed something interesting: leadership. When Moses Brown received a pass well away from the basket, he promptly traveled, but it wasn’t called. Then, when the crowd yelled, he threw the ball away. Hands running down the court literally grabbed Brown’s chin and lifted it up. “Don’t hang your head big guy, keep playing.” Hands was not great, but he was a leader and he was clutch.
Areas to Improve: Set offense. 23 turnovers! Some were just ugly. UCLA did not have an assist on their last 22 points. We were all dribble and one on one.
The Bartow Difference: Use of players. While I had problems with his going 11 deep in the first half against an 8-man Oregon team, at the end we had energy and they were dead tired. Bartow also played the hot hand, benching Smith for Hill who scored tonight as many points as he had in the last five games combined. His small team worked at the end. The subbing of Brown and Hill in was key to get the rebound miss in. A hat tip to the coach. Yes, Altman’s team looked better, but Bartow’s team looked fresh at the end of the game and their athletic superiority won out. Bartow deserves credit for that, even if it wasn’t always pretty.