feb 9, 2017 | clay fowler |o.c. register | ARTICLE LINK
LOS ANGELES – Lonzo Ball’s favorite time of the game converged with his favorite type of shot Thursday night with UCLA at the biggest crossroads of its season.
The freshman point guard’s deep, step-back 3-pointer with 32 seconds left was the defining moment of the Bruins’ 82-79 win over fifth-ranked Oregon at Pauley Pavilion.
After UCLA’s best player all but disappeared as his team fell behind the Ducks by 19 pointsin the first half, Ball came alive to make four of his final five shots, including five points in the last 70 seconds.
“That’s my time to do what I’ve got to do,” said Ball, widely expected to be a lottery pick in June’s NBA draft. “The team’s comfortable with me in those type of situations. I had the ball and I just wanted to win.”
“I knew time was winding down. That’s one of my favorite shots. I don’t get nervous. It’s something I’ve been working for my whole life.”
The victory avenged UCLA’s two-point loss in Eugene, Ore., on Dec. 28 punctuated by Dillon Brooks’ 3-pointer with less than a second to play. The 10th-ranked Bruins (22-3, 9-3) pulled within a game of Oregon (21-4, 10-2) in the Pac-12 standings and trail conference leader Arizona by two games. UCLA plays at Arizona on Feb. 25.
One of five Bruins in double figures, Ball finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds and a season-low one assist with three turnovers.
Aaron Holiday had 15 points, including two free throws to restore a three-point UCLA lead with 14 seconds to play after missing the front end of a one-and-one 13 seconds earlier.
A 21-3 second-half run earned UCLA its first lead of the game on a Holiday 3-pointer with 4:01 remaining in the game, sending most of the 13,659 in attendance into a frenzy.
UCLA’s defense, its Achilles heel all season, was more responsible for the win than its offense for the first time all season, according to Coach Steve Alford.
“We know we can score with all the teams in the country so it’s just about being tough on the defensive end,” Holiday said.
The Bruins earned three consecutive stops, including two on the possession preceding Holiday’s 3-pointer that included an Oregon offensive rebound.
“That was the best defense we’ve played,” said UCLA freshman Ike Anigbogu, who had nine points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots in just 15 minutes. “It really came down to pride.”
“When you’re down 19, you got to have help and our guys did a great job helping each other,” Alford said.
Before its most important defensive stretch of the season, UCLA suffered a lapse as Oregon scored 11 points in the first three minutes of the second half to restore a 13-point lead it maintained until 12 minutes remained.
“We called timeout,” Alford said, “and I remember writing on the board, ‘Guys, they just scored 11 in three minutes. We’re going to give up 70.’ This is embarrassing.”
Ball switched onto Oregon’s Brooks with 14 minutes left and limited the Ducks’ best player to three of his 19 points the rest of the way.
Oregon freshman Payton Pritchard, who had one of his best games of the season in the first meeting with UCLA, scored five important points down the stretch, but Ball had an answer each time.
UCLA’s point guard made a clutch lay-up for a 77-72 lead with 1:10 to play, then answered Pritchard’s 3-pointer with a shot 10 feet behind the 3-point line, gesturing and yelling on the way back down the court to celebrate a five-point lead with 32 seconds to play.
“Zo figures out how to win games. That’s what makes him a special point guard,” Alford said. “People don’t talk enough about his basketball IQ, his feel. That’s a feel for him and I’ve never once told him, I don’t want like five straight from 35 (feet), but if he makes the first four, I might.”