After a slow start from the Oregon Basketball team, who is favored to make another strong push this year in the annual March Madness Tournament, the Ducks would find themselves facing their toughest task to date against a very dangerous UCLA Bruins team (ranked second in the country). The Bruins were also one of six teams that currently remained unbeaten (13-0) coming into the high profile matchup.
With many students spread throughout the entire country for the holiday break, the Ducks made sure that all who were in Eugene would be at Matt Knight Arena cheering loud and causing havoc. By Christmas Day, the 12, 364 seat Arena was sold out and sitting somber, like a calm before a storm.
On Thursday, Oregon came out aggressive, shooting any chance they could and matching the top ranked Bruins basket for basket. Fortunately for the Ducks, All-American Dillon Brooks, Freshman Peyton Pritchard, Senior Dylan Ennis, and Sophomore Tyler Dorsey started to get hot in the middle of the first half, draining three point baskets. At the end of the first half, the Oregon Ducks led the unbeaten UCLA Bruins by five.
But just like Bill Walton stated at halftime, the Bruins never go away and players such as T.J. Leaf, Lonzo Ball, and Bryce Alford would come out with a vengeance. And boy was Bill ever right, in the second half, UCLA would go on a 15-0 run with 7:47 left in the game, while also leading the Ducks by seven points. As time ticked away, it seemed that Oregon had slipped into too deep of a hole to recover from.
With just four minutes remaining, the Ducks still trailed the Bruins by eight, and that is where everything changed. Oregon roared back to make it a one-possession game with just 50 seconds left in the game. Just when it looked like Oregon would once again fall just short and drop their third game of the season, Peyton Pritchard (who was silent much of the second half) threw up a desperation three point shot and hit nothing but net making it a one point game, re-energizing Matt Knight Arena.
The Ducks immediately fouled UCLA’s Bryce Alford (an 87% free throw shooter) and put him at the line with the pressure on. Alford missed the free throw and just like that Oregon had the ball with eight seconds left. And Dillon Brooks made sure that he would not miss this golden opportunity, with 0.8 seconds left, Brooks hit the game winning three point basket, handing UCLA it’s first loss of the season by a score of 89-87. Duck fans were so elated with happiness that they would not only storm the court once, but twice.
Even after accomplishing this major win, Oregon Head Coach Dana Altman was still not satisfied, because he knew that another tall task still looked ahead on Saturday against USC (who was also one of the six unbeaten teams and ranked 21 nationally).
But just like against UCLA on Thursday, Oregon would come out aggressive wanting to spoil another undefeated opponent. By the end of the first half, the Ducks led USC by ten, and it wouldn’t get much better in the second half, as Oregon flew past another ranked opponent by a score of 84-61. Dillon Brooks and Dylan Ennis led Oregon past the Trojans with 48 combined points.
With these two high profile wins, it looks like the Oregon Ducks are in mid-season form and a team that should be feared by the entire nation. Dillon Brooks has also put himself on the map to be the one the nation’s top players. The Ducks also increased their national rank from 21 to 15, and will face Washington on the road come Wednesday.