Michael Roll establishes himself as a leader for the Bruins

Michael Roll protects a rebound during UCLA's Senior Day loss to Oregon.

Michael Roll protects a rebound during UCLA's Senior Day loss to Oregon. Shalev Netanel

Less than a minute after the Bruins had managed to fight all the way back to force a tied game, senior guard Michael Roll flicked his wrist from beyond the arc on the right wing ““ exactly as he had done so many times before.

Coming down from its arc, the ball hit a piece of the net just so, beginning that swirling motion like the one that makes the perfect tip of a soft-serve ice cream cone. The crowd could taste the sweet surge of momentum that was waiting at the end of the magical spiral.

And then the ball lost its rhythm, hit a snag and swung out.

“I swore that thing was in the bottom of the net,” Roll said. “And it popped out.”

After UCLA got set in its zone defense for the next possession, Roll was still thinking about it. He screamed to the ceiling in frustration.

UCLA never did take back the lead that afternoon, but Oregon did behind a monster game from the Ducks’ senior Tajuan Porter, who shot the go-ahead 3-pointer with 50 seconds left. The Ducks snuck out of Pauley Pavilion with a 70-68 victory on Saturday afternoon, stealing any chance for the Bruins to properly celebrate their eldest statesman and their last tangible connection to national prominence.

In the final home game of his collegiate career, Roll was exactly as he was billed to be by his coach: the most consistent player on the team. His six 3-pointers helped him to tie a career-high 25 points and were sometimes the only fuel that kept the Bruin machine running.

“He did a great job leading us back,” coach Ben Howland said. “He hit a couple big shots to get us back in close, and he kept us in there in the first half.”

Roll’s presence has become a given on the UCLA basketball team. In fact, of all the great hoopsters to suit up in a jersey with those four iconic letters across the front, it is his chest that has worn them the most.

“It’s been a great run that I’ve had here,” Roll said after playing in his record-breaking 143rd game as a Bruin. “Obviously, it sucks that we lost. We fought, though; I’m proud of that.”

This season, Roll has epitomized the fight in this team, despite suffering more losses ““ and bigger ones ““ than he had experienced in any of his three other years in Westwood. His fight was evident when he raced down the court at the end of Saturday’s game, desperately launching a 25-foot 3-point make with time expiring to bring his team closer, but not close enough.

After winning, Oregon coach Ernie Kent, the second-most senior member of the Pac-10 coaching fraternity, talked about paying tribute to the Bruins’ three straight Final Four teams of the last decade.

Roll is the last player to have participated in Howland’s trifecta, which started in the 2005-2006 season. As a freshman, Roll entered in an underrated recruiting class that featured eventual NBA starters Darren Collison and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

Since then, Roll has gone from a bench player known for his hot hand to the team’s unquestioned leader.

He is often the most vocal player on the court, giving midgame pep talks to his teammates when shots are not falling and passes are not connecting. And though Roll is not a point guard, his teammates look to him for guidance in action, which has been necessary this season with such an untried group.

“He brings a lot of wisdom,” freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt said.

Since the beginning, Howland gave his players a mandate for improvement. With such a young team, it was going to be necessary for them to acclimate and do it fast. Those goals has met plenty of hardship along the way.

“We just couldn’t get over the hump,” Roll said.

He was talking about the Bruins’ just-shy comeback on Saturday, but the words speak to the entirety of his team’s trying season.

But if there were any player who showed a full grasp of Howland’s preseason expectations of hard work, it was the guy who went from a rare starter to the team’s leader in nearly every statistical category. Roll is first on the team in points, assists, 3-point shooting, free throw shooting and minutes played, logging an astounding 35.6 per game.

Though Roll’s final appearance in the legendary arena was not a victory, it was ““ very much like his final season ““ not for a lack of effort from No. 20.

“It was my last game in Pauley,” Roll said matter-of-factly. “I’ll remember it forever.”

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