Oregon is playing for its NCAA Tournament life and will get a huge opportunity for a resume-building victory when it plays second-ranked UCLA on Friday night in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals in Las Vegas.
Projections have the fourth-seeded Ducks (19-13) on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble, but they kept hope alive by squeaking past Washington State in the conference tournament quarterfinals, rallying late for a 75-70 triumph after squandering a 19-point first-half lead.
A victory over the Bruins (28-4) would provide a signature win for at-large consideration, while also moving Oregon within one game of earning an automatic berth in the NCAAs.
“It’s the next game. We’ve really got to focus,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “UCLA’s really well coached. They’re really talented. … They guard, they rebound, they know what they want offensively, and they’ve got the most valuable player in the league.”
UCLA advanced to the conference tournament semifinals with an 80-69 victory over Colorado on Wednesday as the Bruins played their first game without defensive ace Jaylen Clark, who is reportedly out for the season due to an Achilles injury suffered in the regular-season finale. He is averaging 13 points per game.
Coach Mick Cronin said Clark’s absence would be an opportunity for others, and the player who stepped up the most against the Buffaloes was freshman Amari Bailey. Bailey, who averaged 9.6 points in the regular season, scored a career-best 26 on Thursday.
“I know he’s got that in him,” Cronin said, “and I’ve been trying to figure out how to get it out of him. It hasn’t been his fault. It’s been mine.
“We’re trying to figure out ways to get his confidence going. I thought this game got going up and down and he was able to get a lot of touches early to get into his rhythm. When you’re a young player, it helps to get your confidence going.”
UCLA got its usual contributions from Pac-12 Player of the Year Jaime Jaquez Jr. and others. Jaquez had 16 points and nine rebounds. Tyger Campbell had 18 points and seven assists. Adem Bona put up a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards.
The Bruins swept the season series from Oregon, winning 65-56 at home on Dec. 4 and following up with a 70-63 decision in Eugene on Feb. 11. UCLA’s defense forced a combined 31 turnovers in those two games. Another key stat was offensive rebounding: The Bruins grabbed 28 in the two wins; Oregon managed only 11.
To that end, the Ducks need first-team all-conference center N’Faly Dante at his best. He limped off late in the game after twisting his right ankle, but he said he’ll be ready to battle the Bruins.
“Whatever I need to do, I don’t care,” said Dante, who has double-doubles in five of the past six games. “I am just going to go out there for my team. There is no day off. At this point, I can’t do that.”
Altman said Dante was “moving OK” after the game.
“Sure hope he’s OK,” Altman added. “He’s a big, big part of our team.”
–Field Level Media