The Bruins failed to accomplish something they hadn’t been able to do all season: beat the Ducks.
No. 9 UCLA women’s basketball (24-7, 14-4 Pac-12) fell short to No. 6 Oregon (28-5, 16-2) 65-62 for the third time this season in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinal.
After leaving Eugene, Oregon, with an overtime loss less than two weeks ago, the rematch involving the conference’s Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year proved to be an epic showdown.
UCLA led nearly the entire game and at one point led by as many as 13, its largest lead against the Ducks this season.
“Right now we’re really hurting,” said coach Cori Close. “But in the midst of hurting, I’m really proud. … They gave everything from their heart and their soul, and I couldn’t ask for anything more on that front.”
After Oregon’s guard Lexi Bando buried a 3 to take a 1-point lead with about two minutes left, forward Oti Gildon was found wide open across the floor for a layup after senior guard Jordin Canada thought she drew a charge.
That basket would decide the game after Close elected not to call timeout in the final 31 seconds. Canada said that the team looked to find a quick 2 or an open 3, but in the end she took the blame herself.
“That’s basically just what we tried to do,” Canada said. “But obviously I didn’t make a good decision trying to pass it inside to (senior forward Monique Billings), so I just didn’t make a good decision down the stretch.”
The Bruins shot 40 percent from the field while Canada led the way with 19 points. Billings also added 18 points and nine rebounds, helping UCLA win the rebounding battle, points in the paint and even second-chance points.
“We didn’t show many signs that we were going to win that game,” said Oregon coach Kelly Graves.
But Close said it was the little details that cost them the game.
“We got some open jump shots and we needed to knock more down,” Close said. “We need more ball movement so we can set some screens to free up easier touches.”
UCLA ended the first quarter on a 10-4 run to lead 19-14 at the end of the period, but Oregon’s Bando, guards Sabrina Ionescu and Maite Cazorla answered in the second quarter with 3s of their own to spur a 13-2 run heading into halftime.
“Both teams were just passionate and competitive … and both teams wanted it,” Billings said. “We talked about it earlier, too, we (had) to go earn it – so clearly they were the better team tonight.”
In the midst of a fast-paced offensive flow on both ends, UCLA committed six turnovers by halftime, while logging only six total in the win over California. Canada, who finished the game with six turnovers and just one assist, had been top-three in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio.
“(Canada) is always going to take the responsibility, and she’s going to take too much on with that,” Close said. “(But) obviously it starts with me, I’m the head coach (and) I’m the ultimate responsibility.”
The Bruins never made a field goal in the last five minutes of the second half and ended the game going 0-of-7 from the field.
“I thought we had opportunities,” Close said. “But in the end, the last play was not as clean, but I thought the plays leading up to that (were where) we needed to get a little more production.”
Oregon was limited to just 24 percent from behind the arc while normally averaging 41.5 percent on the season. Forward Satou Sabally, who went 7-of-9 from long range in Oregon’s overtime victory, never made a 3 and exited the game with an injury.
Even though the seniors could never bring home the Pac-12 Tournament championship in their four years, UCLA is moving on to preparing for the NCAA Tournament.
“Right now I’m going to let (this game) kick me forward as a coach so that we’re better when we have (this) opportunity in the NCAA Tournament,” Close said. “They’re going to fight, and we’re all going to hold the mirror up and we’re going to grow a few possessions better.”