With the tournament title on the line, the top-seed UCLA Bruins will tangle with the third-seed Oregon Ducks for Pac-12 supremacy at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday.
After having suffered a two-game losing streak to end the regular season, Oregon didn't look like a team ready to make a run at the tournament crown. However after a dominating 64-45 win over Utah in the semifinals, the Ducks have returned to form and look much more like the team that spent a chunk of the season in the national rankings. Oregon does have a pair of tourney titles to its credit but has not managed to secure one since 2007 and has not made an appearance in the title game during that span.
For the second straight game UCLA needed to overcome a double-digit deficit in the second half to earn its spot in the title game. In Friday's semifinal against Arizona the Bruins trailed by 11 points, but completed the 66-64 comeback win with a Kyle Anderson layup on an offensive rebound with 23 seconds remaining. The Bruins also came back from a 15-point deficit in the previous round against Arizona State. The win against Arizona was the seventh in the last eight games for the Bruins who are the top seed in the tournament for the first time since 2008 when they made it all the way to the Final Four.
There was just one meeting between these teams in the regular season when they met up at Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 19. Oregon earned the 76-67 win in that matchup but still has a lot of work to do to even up the all-time series which the Ducks trail, 81-32.
Oregon put on a dominant display on defense against the Utes as the Ducks held them to just 28.8 percent shooting in their semifinal matchup. Four different players scored in double figures for the Ducks, led by 14 points each from Damyean Dotson and E.J. Singler.
It was yet another showing that illustrates how balanced the Ducks are on offense as they have six different players averaging at least nine points per game. Singler (11.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg) stands as the leading scorer and has been in double figures in three straight games. Carlos Emory (10.7 ppg) and Dotson (10.8 ppg) are also double-figure scorers, while Arsalan Kazemi (9.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg) is one of the best rebounders in the conference. As a team the Ducks are the leading squad on the glass in the Pac-12 (37.4 rpg), while scoring a healthy 71.8 points per game.
The Bruins were facing a 49-38 deficit against Arizona with just over 10 minutes to play on Friday. However, they woke up and ripped off a 9-0 run to pull back within two points. The Wildcats went back up by six, but the Bruins went on another run (13-7) over the next few minutes to finally pull ahead, 60-58. The Wildcats tied the game up twice from there, but Anderson's play in the last 30 seconds proved decisive for the Bruins.
It wasn't all good news for the Bruins, as Jordan Adams (15.3 ppg) was lost for the season after breaking his right foot on the final play of the game. On a night when leading scorer Shabazz Muhammad (17.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg) struggled, getting just 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting, it was Adams that came up big with a game-high 24 points. Now others will need to step up in his absence. That shouldn't be too much to ask for as there is still a great deal of talent on the roster for the Bruins even with Adams out. Anderson (9.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.5 apg) has been a jack of all trades for the Bruins, making plays across the board, while Larry Drew II (7.4 ppg, 7.5 apg) was the Pac-12 leader in assists during the regular season, holding the keys to the conference's highest scoring unit (74.9 ppg).