All night long, Ruthy Hebard battled relentlessly against the post play of UCLA. The junior power forward wasn’t just a mismatch, she was a nightmare for the Bruins, whose tight and aggressive player-to-player defense proved effective at slowing the high-powered Ducks offense.
Late in the game, the ball repeatedly went to Hebard. Driving downhill for layups, pulling rebounds powerfully off the glass over the outstretched arms of UCLA, she was the key in Oregon’s 88-83 overtime victory over UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals, sending the Ducks to the conference championship for the second year in a row.
“We believed,” UCLA head coach Cori Close said in the post-game press conference with tears welling in her eyes. “We didn’t just come in happy to be here. We expected to win.”
Early on, the game was off to an eerily similar start as the last time the two teams met just weeks ago.
Oregon was up big and up early, begging the question, can UCLA keep up with the Ducks offense, one of the most efficient in the NCAA? UCLA fought back, led by the efforts of senior forward Kennedy Burke, an indomitable force on both ends of the court for the Bruins. Last game, the team mounted a massive comeback and capitalized, defeating the Ducks on their home court — the only team to accomplish such a feat all season.
“We don’t have anybody on our team that plays like Kennedy Burke,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said. “I got them as being a candidate to win several games in the NCAA. That’s a good team.”
But in that game, the Ducks were without Hebard, who sustained a knee injury earlier that week in Oregon's loss at Oregon State.
“I wanted to come out tonight and give my team everything I’ve got,” said Hebard, who had most of her 28 points and 12 rebounds in clutch moments of the second half on Saturday.
Hebard took a beating all game from the brutal play of the Bruins, falling to the ground over rebounds, jump balls and drawing charges time and time again.
In the end, however, it was Hebard and the Ducks who exhausted their opponents.
“For the last quarter, plus overtime, every possession seemed to matter,” Graves said. “Neither team could really separate from the other.”
With the clock ticking down on the final minute of the fourth quarter, the Ducks put up shot after shot to no avail, heavily contested by the Bruins. But with each missed shot, Hebard got a piece of the ball off the glass, leading to three straight offensive rebounds and a jump ball that went to the Ducks. Hebard capitalized with a clutch layup on the following play, the final points for the Ducks that would send the game to overtime.
“She’s been huge, offensively and defensively,” said senior guard Maite Cazorla regarding Hebard. “Getting rebounds, making it tough for the other team, she has made a huge impact.”
Follow Bryce Dole on Twitter @DoleBryce.