College basketball continues to have a blessed season.
The latest and greatest entertaining game took place in Eugene, Ore., on Wednesday night. Unbeaten UCLA looked to be on track to get to 14-0 and start Pac-12 play with an important victory against No. 21 Oregon. Then the Ducks somehow played enough defense and got enough big breaks in the final 3 1/2 minutes to beat No. 2 UCLA 89-87 and stave off the nation's most threatening offense.
After UCLA's Bryce Alford -- an 87-percent free-throw shooter -- missed the front end of a one-and-one, Oregon's best player, Dillon Brooks, found the ball in his hands and without a timeout to burn. You knew he wasn't giving up his shot. Lonzo Ball got a hand in Brooks' face, but the shot fell pure, nothing but net, with 0.8 to go.
Oregon has won 34 consecutive games at home, a school record.
The winner is one of the two or three most dramatic shots we've seen to this point of this terrific season, especially when you consider it ended UCLA's unbeaten run. This is a great pic of Brooks' reaction after hitting the bucket.
When you hand the No. 2 team its first loss on a last-second shot. pic.twitter.com/KBJuDDkFUr— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) December 29, 2016
Here's another look -- from inside the arena -- at the winner. What a massive victory for the Ducks, who were the preseason pick to win the league. Things just got interesting in the Pac-12.
Brooks hits the 3 after Bryce Alford misses the free throw. Oregon ERUPTS. pic.twitter.com/bFSONcV5bl— Derrek Li (@DerrekLi) December 29, 2016
Five key takeaways:
1. Oregon is a legitimate national contender once again
The Ducks, who have reeled off 10 consecutive victories, now have their biggest win of the season. It's their first against a team projected to make the NCAA Tournament. They needed this victory in order to have a realistic chance at winning the Pac-12. UCLA's offense is so good, I don't think anyone's going to beat the Bruins at Pauley Pavilion this season. That means the league's top teams -- Oregon, Arizona, USC -- need to beat the Bruins on their own floors in order to have a chance.
The Ducks did their job. They barely got there, and I'm still shocked UCLA's offense withered so much in the final four minutes, but hey, it happened. This result is good for the conference. Having a real chase and some drama between the teams will make for some really entertaining West Coast ball during the next nine weeks.
Oregon was a No. 1 seed and reached the Elite Eight last season. They are now fully healthy and brimming with confidence. Don't let them fall off your radar. This team can compete for a very good seed once again.
2. The big bucket before the bigger bucket
Let's take a quick minute to point out just how crucial Payton Pritchard's improbable 3-pointer was. Pritchard, only a freshman, got up a really tough trey from the wing with a Bryce Alford hand in his face. This made it a one-point game with 15 seconds remaining. If Pritchard misses this shot -- this really tough shot -- then the game goes UCLA's way 99 percent of the time.
Ducks freshman Peyton Pritchard is on the zone. Huuuuge trey. pic.twitter.com/ZmWo9OSNIu— Troy Machir (@TroyMachir) December 29, 2016
Brooks (23 points, nine rebounds) assisted Pritchard's 3 there, by the way. On the game's last possession, Pritchard (15 points, nine assists) returned the favor.
How about this swing: Oregon, not that good of a team from 3, went 7 for 14 from deep in the first half. It then was 4 for 16 in the second half but made its final two attempts from beyond the arc.
Oregon was able to recover from a 15-0 UCLA run that spanned nearly eight minutes. I'm feeling pretty confident in predicting no team the rest of this season will go more than seven minutes without a bucket in a game and win said game if it's against UCLA.
3. UCLA losing is fine; it's still a top-five team in the country
Winning on the road is hard, especially when it's against a ranked team in your own league with top-10 talent in its starting five. UCLA was favored, sure, but Oregon hadn't done enough to warrant being a home favorite in this spot.
The Bruins lost because they had some weird bounces not go their way. Oregon couldn't slow UCLA on the whole. The Bruins shot 44 percent from 3-point range and 53 percent from the field. Really, the teams were pretty even, it's just that Oregon made almost every play it had to in the final 180 seconds. UCLA was eked out. I wouldn't sweat it if I were a Bruins fan.
In losing, the Bruins fall short of matching the 2006-07 team's 14-0 start. The Bruins' first loss that year? At Oregon, which was also ranked at the time.
4. No technical foul on the the court "shower" is an OK no-call
Bruins fans who are bent after this loss are still looking for a technical foul against Oregon. See, about 75 fans ran onto the court after they thought Brooks' winner came as time expired. It didn't -- the clock read 0.8. One camera shot had Dana Altman kind of urgently nudging some 25-year-old-looking broseph off the floor. He was worried a tech was coming. Had UCLA inbounded the ball immediately and attempted to get a shot off in live play, then the officials could have hit Oregon with a technical foul.
Since play was dead, and the stripes were reviewing the time situation, the fans were able to be guided off the floor fast enough to avoid any call against their team. I can see it both ways, but pragmatically, this was such a weak storm -- and again, the officials were under monitor review -- that I don't have a problem with the technical being called. Had it been called, and UCLA won, it would be a story that carried well over into Thursday afternoon.
5. Thomas Welsh is a killer from 14 feet
UCLA has a weapon on offense with every player they put on the floor. Welsh, who is 7 feet tall and has the touch of a velvet glove, had a career-high 20 points, plus 10 boards. Most of them came on the wing. He is simply automatic from middle range. This kind of offensive reliability is overlooked in a dramatic loss, but Welsh is going to help UCLA to a few really good victories later this season because it is impossible to block that shot. On the year, Welsh is shooting better than 60 percent from 2-point range.