Oregon Ducks guard Victor Bailey Jr. (10) waits for possession of the ball. Oregon Ducks men’s basketball takes on UCLA at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore. on Jan. 10, 2019. (Maddie Knight/Emerald)

Oregon men’s basketball suffered the most heartbreaking loss of its season Thursday night, blowing a 9-point lead with under a minute left to UCLA, who won 87-84 in overtime.

The Bruins trailed by nine with 51 seconds left, making it the largest deficit overcome with under a minute left in Pac-12 history, and is tied for sixth in Division I history. Additionally, the Ducks also led by 17 with just under seven minutes left to play.

Oregon jumped out to the lead with some of its best basketball of the season. The defense was forcing UCLA to turn the ball over, and the Ducks capitalized on the offensive end.

But, the seven minute collapse was the reverse of all that had gone right for the Ducks. Turnovers and rebounds killed Oregon, and while UCLA got hot, Oregon went cold.

“No easy way to spin that one,” head coach Dana Altman said. “That’s a gut-punch. … They played really hard. I feel really bad for them.”

Missing the big guys

The Ducks are without their two best big men, Bol Bol and Kenny Wooten. And with forward Abu Kigab transferring earlier in the week, the Ducks are down to eight scholarship players.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and it looked as though Oregon had solved some of the size issues. The small-ball, three or four-guard lineups were effective for most of the game.

Even with the size disadvantage, Oregon played stellar defense. UCLA turned the ball over 23 times, much of it forced by smaller guards’ quick hands. The full-court press was more effective with quicker players. Ehab Amin finished with an Oregon career-high five steals.

And it was working on offense, too.

Oregon went to a four-guard lineup with 5:17 left in the first half, when Oregon was down by one point. The lineup of Payton Pritchard, Victory Bailey Jr., Will Richardson, Amin and forward Miles Norris went on a 12-6 run to end the first half.

This was one of the few times Altman has used this small lineup this season, and with Bol out for the season and Wooten’s timetable undetermined, it may become a feature in the rotation.

Amin and Will Richardson fit the physical prototype of traditional point guards or shooting guards, but over the past five games, they’ve combined for 61 percent of the minutes at the small forward position, according to KenPom.com

Oregon lived by the small lineup but eventually died by it.

UCLA dominated the offensive glass over the final seven minutes of regulation. The Bruins grabbed six of their 16 total offensive rebounds in that span. The most important came with five seconds left. Jaylen Hands missed a 3-pointer. Prince Ali grabbed the rebound, dribbled beyond the 3-point line, turned and hit a fadeaway three. Oregon’s lead was cut to one.

“We got them to miss the first ones, but we just got to go get the ball,” Altman said.

With two seconds left, UCLA’s Charles Smith grabbed a missed free throw and scored the put-back while being fouled to tie the game. He missed the game-winning free throw, but UCLA used the boards to climb back in the game.

“We don’t have rim protection right now,” Altman said. “They got to the rim a couple times on us.”

UCLA finished with 51 rebounds, while Oregon had 37. Even more concerning for Oregon, the two true centers, Norris and Francis Okoro, combined for one rebound in 28 minutes of play.

Pritchard’s shooting struggles continue

Entering the season, Pritchard was considered one of Oregon’s only potent offensive players. His 41 percent 3-point shooting the season prior was something Oregon desperately needed this season as it lacked shooters.

But Pritchard is shooting a career-low 30 percent from three. The deterioration of Pritchard’s shot is a major theme for Oregon right now. Bol’s absence means Oregon doesn’t have a go-to scorer, and Pritchard needs to be one of the guys to fill the shoes.

Against UCLA, his struggles continued and he finished with four points, with all coming from the free throw line. Over the last nine games, Pritchard is 14-of-54 from 3-point range. The numbers are puzzling, and the reasons behind them don’t seem clear.

“You know, I’m not sure,” Altman said. “We want him to look for shots, and I thought the ball moved good. He missed a couple good looks, but we do need him to be more aggressive offensively.”

Louis King getting better

If there are any silver linings, it’s that the Ducks were up 17 in the first place. King, Oregon’s other freshman 5-star, is finally looking like one. He spent most of this season recovering from a knee injury, and his impact was limited when he returned. He is a full-go now, playing more than 30 minutes in the last three games.

Against UCLA, he had a career-high 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting. He grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds, and when Oregon was rolling, King was a player they depended on.

“I think he’s playing really good,” Altman said. “I thought he did a lot of good things tonight.

As the season teeters on disaster, King’s recent performances give hope to a struggling team

Sports Editor

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