No. 3 UCLA struggles on defense in ’embarrassing’ overtime loss to Oregon

UCLA and Oregon have waged some epic battles in recent years, the memory bank filled with a Dillon Brooks last-second shot, some unprintable words from Lonzo Ball after burying a 30-footer and Prince Ali yelling “This is highway robbery, baby!” in a hallway after the Bruins had come back from nine points down with 51 seconds left.

For 39½ minutes Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion, what happened between the teams didn’t appear destined to go into any scrapbook. More like the scrap heap, as far as the Bruins were concerned.

Playing in front of only a smattering of fans in the wake of the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, No. 3 UCLA turned in a listless second half, finding itself down by four points with 35 seconds left.

The third-ranked Bruins woke up quickly. Jaylen Clark jolted them back to life with two steals to force overtime.

Unfortunately for UCLA, the reprieve was only temporary. The Bruins couldn’t get enough defensive stops in the extra period, falling, 84-81, in their first defeat since late November.

“It’s an abomination, it’s embarrassing,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said of his team’s defensive effort. “I’ll fix it, though. We weren’t prepared, it’s my fault, my job.”

Clark checked back into the game with 10.3 seconds left and his team trailing by just a basket to try to generate more defensive magic. Oregon got the ball in to Will Richardson and he was fouled in the backcourt with 9.1 seconds left. He missed the first free throw but made the second, giving UCLA a chance to set up a play for a tying three-pointer after Bruins coach Mick Cronin called timeout.

Johnny Juzang missed a three-pointer with four seconds left and teammate Jules Bernard grabbed the rebound, trying desperately to get beyond the arc for another try. His shot was blocked at the buzzer, touching off a wild celebration among the Ducks as the Bruins briefly milled about before heading toward the locker room.

“You’re either humble and hungry like they were,” Cronin said, “or arrogant without cause, like we are because we haven’t won anything.”

Juzang finished with 23 points for UCLA (10-2 overall, 2-1 Pac-12), which couldn’t muster another late comeback. After having trailed by as many as nine points early in the second half and briefly retaking the lead, the Bruins found themselves down 71-67 with 1:12 left after Cody Riley made a floater.

Clark came up with a steal when the Bruins applied full-court pressure and Tyger Campbell was fouled, making two free throws to make it 71-69 with 20 seconds to go. Oregon inbounded the ball before Clark stole the next pass and went in for a layup to tie the score with 11 seconds remaining.

Bernard blocked Will Richardson’s desperation three-pointer to force overtime.

Guard Jacob Young scored 23 points for Oregon (10-6, 3-2), which made five of eight shots in overtime to help coach Dana Altman log the 700th victory over his career.

The Bruins had sleepwalked their way through the first 3½ minutes of the second half, failing to provide any resistance as Oregon made four three-pointers as part of a 14-2 push. The Ducks’ resulting 44-37 lead forced Cronin to take a timeout with his team facing its biggest deficit of the game.

It quickly got worse, UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. having a shot blocked and teammate Juzang fouling Oregon’s Rivaldo Soares on a three-point attempt. Soares made two of three shots and the Ducks held a 46-37 advantage.

The first half was a series of alternating runs, the one constant being sloppy basketball. UCLA held a 35-30 halftime lead on the strength of an early 12-0 surge and a late 14-2 push, but there was a lot of carelessness in between. The Bruins committed nine turnovers and were shooting 38.7% by the game’s midpoint, their narrow advantage largely courtesy of holding the Ducks to 30.3% shooting, including only one for nine on three-pointers (11.1%).

Peyton Watson contributed some of his best minutes of the season in the first half, his defensive activity leading to two blocks and several other heavily contested shots. He also made only his second three-pointer of the season and finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.

Riley endured a frustrating opening sequence, committing an offensive foul on the Bruins’ first possession and then fouling Oregon’s N’Faly Dante on a turnaround jumper for his second foul just 28 seconds into the game.

Riley departed in favor of Myles Johnson and later a small-ball lineup without a true big man before returning with a little more than seven minutes left in the first half. He was in the middle of UCLA’s final run of the first half, making two jumpers to help the Bruins build their small halftime cushion.

The final sequence of the first half typified the game’s ugliness when Oregon’s Eric Williams needlessly heaved a halfcourt shot with several seconds left but Juzang failed to grab the rebound, allowing Ducks forward Quincy Guerrier to collect the rebound for a dunk.

“We did not play well, Cronin said, before ticking off a litany of issues. “Shot selection, ball security, defense — none of the above.”

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