In a game that featured the Oregon Ducks trying to avoid being swept by the Los Angeles schools Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA knew they needed a win as well to stay at the top of standings [second place], but it took overtime and a barrage of three-point attempts to make it happen.
In possibly his last time playing in Westwood, UCLA guard Aaron Holiday wanted to send his four seniors out on a winning note, scoring 29 points, five rebounds and six assists in a back-and-forth game that sought the Bruins (19-8, 10-5 Pac-12) outlast the Ducks (17-10, 7-7 Pac-12), 86-78 before a sold-out crowd of 13,001.
“Winning like this in overtime shows we have mental toughness and we got it done tonight,” added the Bruins leading scorer Holiday, who could forgo his senior season next year to enter his name into the NBA draft.
Indianapolis native and freshman forward Kris Wilkes scored 19 points and five rebounds, while fellow freshman Jaylen Hands added eight points, five rebounds and three assists.
“Obviously, I’m really proud of our guys, thought they really battled,” said UCLA coach Steve Alford.
“I just thought we really handled it… it’s just a good gritty win and we separated ourselves by a couple games from another team now so that’s good.”
Among the four UCLA seniors that took the court pregame, was center Thomas Welsh, who was accompanied with his parents and older brother, as he received a heartfelt applause from the crowd in his final game at Pauley Pavilion.
Welsh ultimately recorded his 16th double-double of the season, with 14 points, 14 rebounds and four assists, and drained two pivotal three-pointers late in the game.
One of Welsh’s three-point baskets snapped a 13-0 run by Oregon and gave UCLA a brief 62-61 lead with seven minutes to play in the second half, while his other seemingly put the game away for Bruins in OT, giving them a eight point lead with only 2:12 to play.
“It’s my last home game, I’m a senior [on senior night] and I have five minutes left in this place [Pauley Pavilion],” Welsh said. “We got fired up and went on a run and closed it out. It was emotional to being playing my last game here with my family watching. Playing at UCLA was like a dream come true”.
“To have the last shot be a made three in overtime in Pauley, that’s pretty darn special. It’s going to be something I’ll remember for a very, very long time.”
Oregon finished with three-players in double-digits, as sophomore guard Payton Pritchard led the way with 23 points and junior guard Elijah Brown and senior forward MiKyle McIntosh both added 19 points, respectively.
The Bruins surprisingly committed twice as many turnovers as the Ducks with 16 compared to Oregon’s 8, but UCLA shot 46.7 percent from three-point distance with 16 makes and also owned the matchup on the glass, out rebounding the Ducks (46-37).
Through 20 minutes of play, Pritchard and Brown combined for 24 points as Oregon trailed 40-35 at the break.
The second half featured two teams that both caught fire in stretches, as the Bruins went on a 9-0 run that was capped with a Holiday jumper that made the score 59-48, Oregon’s largest deficit of the game with 12:23 remaining.
However, just less than one minute later, Holiday attacked the basket and was called for an offensive foul, picking up his fourth personal foul and was forced to the bench.
During that stretch, the Bruins went scoreless for four straight minutes, as the Ducks went on a 13-0 run that was capped off by five straight points from Brown.
“They went on a big run when Aaron was on the bench in foul trouble,” added Alford. “They got more aggressive and they made shots. We need Aaron on the court.”
Shortly after his return, Holiday served as a catalyst when the Bruins were down four points with 3:15 remaining, as he drilled two jump shots and assisted on a Jaylen Hands made a three-pointer.
In the closing seconds, Oregon’s Elijah Brown’s had a shot to win the game with the score tied at 71-71 all, but his three-point attempt was greatly contested by Prince Ali who added 11 points and eight rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench.
In the extra period, Ali got things rolling by draining a three-point basket in the corner, only before Holiday was fouled on a tough-floater that went in, as he completed the three-point play.
“I think he is, in my mind, the Pac-12 Player of the Year,” said Alford.
“It’s one of two guys – it’s either (Deandre) Ayton or it’s Holiday. I think that’s clear now with two weeks to go now. Obviously, Ayton is on a team that is leading the league, and I think he’s very special and has had a special year, but nobody has meant more to their team than what Holiday has meant for us. Our plus-minus when he was on the floor had to be somewhere between 15 and 20 and we were up by seven or eight.”
The Bruins will end their final three regular season games on the road starting with a pivotal game against Utah (17-9, 9-6 Pac-12) Thursday night at 6:00 p.m.