Pac-12 Conference Tournament Championship Game
(3) Oregon 78 (1) UCLA 69
The Oregon Ducks knew that they should have been able to gain at least a share of the 2013 Pac-12 regular season championship, but they lost to lowly Utah on the final day of the regular season, handing the outright title to the UCLA Bruins. On Saturday night in Las Vegas, the Ducks redeemed their season in a big way by taking home a trophy of their own.
Oregon wrested the Pac-12 Tournament crown from UCLA in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, maintaining a modest lead down the stretch and never allowing the Bruins to get on the kind of run that propelled the top seed to this title bout in Sin City.
UCLA had overcome a 15-point second-half deficit to beat Arizona State in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Coach Ben Howland’s team then erased an 11-point second-half deficit to beat Arizona on Friday. This time, however, UCLA was not able to make more second-half magic. Oregon answered every time the Bruins tried to make a charge, as coach Dana Altman’s team – which is viewed to be a year ahead of schedule in its progression – boosted its seeding for the NCAA tournament.
The Ducks, leading by a tenuous 54-52 margin with 12:09 left, scored six quick points to push their advantage back to eight points, at 60-52, with 10:34 on the clock. UCLA closed within four, at 62-58, with 8:50 to go, but a jumper by Oregon’s Ben Carter just 19 seconds later alleviated game pressure and allowed the Ducks to remain settled on the floor. This pattern – UCLA mini-run, Oregon counter-run – continued for the next several minutes, with the Bruins failing to cement any sort of sustained leverage. The last gasp for UCLA came with 3:34 remaining, when Travis Wear missed a dunk that would have sliced a seven-point UO lead to five. The Ducks built a 71-62 cushion at the 2:36 mark of regulation and were never threatened after that point in time.
Clearly, the absence of Jordan Adams – injured for the remainder of the season in Friday’s win over Arizona – hurt UCLA in this game. The Bruins were not as effective on defense, allowing Oregon to hit 48 percent of its field goals and 50 percent of its threes (7 of 14). The Ducks were always comfortable on offense, which is exactly why they were able to score whenever they really needed to in the closing minutes.
Carlos Emory scored 20 points while Johnathan Lloyd popped in 19 for the Ducks. Arsalan Kazemi collected 12 points and 12 rebounds, enabling Oregon to hold its own in the low post. All five UCLA starters scored at least 10 points, but star wing Shabazz Muhammad hit only 5 of 13 field goals, while Wear hit only 4 of 12.
This win, as mentioned above, will give Oregon’s NCAA tournament seeding a needed boost. Oregon played without point guard Dominic Artis in the month of February, getting him back just before the Pac-12 Tournament. The Selection Committee needed to evaluate Oregon with Artis back in the lineup. When the Ducks lost at Utah on March 9, their seeding was in danger of being an 8 or a 9, putting UO in the dreaded 8-9 game. However, with this tournament title, the Ducks have surely moved out of that seed range. They are at least a 7 at this point, and very possibly a 6. A No. 5 seed is not out of the realm of possibility.
For UCLA, this loss carries the opposite effect. The Bruins, without Adams in the tournament, are going to be seeded based on that absence. This loss to Oregon will clearly prevent UCLA from getting a No. 4 seed. The question facing the Selection Committee is if this loss will bump the Bruins all the way down to a 6 seed. In all likelihood, UCLA will be a 5 seed when the brackets are revealed on Sunday afternoon.