Ducks Win Battle For First Place
EUGENE, Ore. — Playing for the fourth time in seven days, the Oregon men's basketball team won for the fourth time in seven days on Wednesday evening, an 82-74 victory over UCLA that gave the Ducks sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 entering their regular-season finale.
After sweeping a regularly scheduled road trip to the Bay Area this past weekend, the UO men had a quick turnaround for rescheduled matchups with Arizona and UCLA that had been postponed earlier this season. The Ducks (18-4, 13-4 Pac-12) beat the Wildcats on Monday to pull within a half-game of the Bruins in the Pac-12, then beat those Bruins (17-7, 13-5) two days later to take over at the top of the standings.
"It's been a long year," said UO coach Dana Altman, whose team can clinch the conference title Sunday at Oregon State. "The two pauses (due to COVID-19 protocols), an injury to Will (Richardson), injury to (N'Faly) Dante. But I'm really proud of the guys, for sticking together and hanging with our coaching staff, going through the ups and downs and really doing a great job."
How It Happened: Oregon came back from a nine-point deficit over the final 11 minutes of the game, and did it with defense. UCLA had only two turnovers at halftime Wednesday but committed six during a 15-2 run by the Ducks that brought them back from down 60-51 to up 66-62.
The UO men generally play man defense after a missed shot and a trapping zone after a make. But Altman said his players convinced him to use more man in the second half Monday, and it paid off.
"We realized they were only attacking certain areas of the zone," UO senior Eugene Omoruyi said. "We felt like (playing man) was more effective. And coach just let us do it."
Junior guard Will Richardson helped lead the charge back, and his basket sparked Oregon's 15-2 run. From there, the Ducks got stops on five straight possessions, although they only converted those stops into four total points. At the time that looked like a missed opportunity, but after UCLA broke its cold streak and scored to get within 62-57, the Ducks got another six straight stops in a row to go up 66-62.
Oregon's defensive spark was twofold — the length of sophomore post Chandler Lawson in the Ducks' smothering trap, and energy drawn from noise generated by players and coaches on the bench.
"We expended a lot of energy trying to get the game at that pace," Altman said. "When it doesn't pay off, a lot of times guys give into it. Credit to our bench, or coaches — we got the game sped up, we got it where we wanted it, where they're not controlling the tempo. Fortunately Chandler stayed with it, our bench stayed with it, and we did get it turned around."
The Bruins rallied to tie the score 68-68, but the Ducks had one final, decisive surge in them. A putback by Omoruyi started a backbreaking 12-2 run that included a putback by LJ Figueroa and three-pointers by Duarte and Richardson, the latter giving Oregon an 80-70 lead with 1:07 to play.
"We got down nine, and a lot of teams wouldn't have responded like that," Altman said. "But I'm very proud of the guys. Will Richardson just took the game over and really made some good plays. And our defense really tightened up."
Neither team was very effective defensively in the first half Monday. Oregon shot 53.6 percent and yet trailed at the half, 39-37, after UCLA shot 60 percent. The Ducks led by as much as four in the half, 22-18 after a Figueroa three-pointer, but the Bruins fought back to lead by two at the break.
Another Figueroa three-pointer early in the second half sparked a 7-0 run that gave the Ducks a 46-44 lead. But the Bruins scored on seven of their next eight possessions, while the Ducks went nearly seven minutes with just a single field goal following the 7-0 run. But Richardson ended that cold streak with his basket that sparked Oregon's 15-2 run, and the Ducks were on their win to the win.
Who Stood Out: The Ducks again leaned heavily on their starters, who scored all but three points. Duarte had 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting plus two steals, and Figueroa scored 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting with four steals. Richardson and Omoruyi scored 15 points apiece, and Eric Williams Jr. had eight points with eight rebounds.
Lawson had the only bench points, completing a three-point play during Oregon's 15-2 run. But because of the impact his length on defense had in the second half, Omoruyi called him "probably the reason we won this game."
What It Means: The Ducks are one win away from winning the Pac-12 regular-season title for the second year in a row. They're also defending conference tournament champs, although that's based on their win back in 2019 after the 2020 tournament was canceled due to the pandemic.
Notable: Wednesday's game was the last home appearance during the senior seasons of Duarte, Figueroa, Omoruyi, Amauri Hardy and non-scholarship players Eddy Ionescu, Will Johnson and Luke Osborn. … Prior to the game, the national anthems of Canada and the Dominican Republic were played along with that of the United States. Omoruyi grew up in Canada, while Duarte and Figueroa are Dominican. … The game was also the last at home for senior team managers Brian O'Reilly and Sam Stack.
Up Next: The Ducks wrap up the regular season at Oregon State on Sunday (5 p.m., FS1).