Saturday was a tale of two halves for the Oregon Ducks as they fell to the Bruins of UCLA, 67-59. Oregon could not replicate their stellar first half and eventually allowed the Bruins to put the contest out of reach.
From the outset, it was obvious the Ducks would have their hands full as they played their second consecutive game without senior forward Joevan Catron. To make matters worse, Oregon would be squaring off against UCLA's Joshua Smith who measures in at a massive 6'10" 305 lbs.
The Ducks came out firing against UCLA, sophomore E.J. Singler employed a great pump fake to free up a baseline drive as Oregon drew first blood. After a forced turnover, Malcolm Armstead aggressively drove the lane to give Oregon a 4-0 lead.
With 8:23 left in the first half EJ Singler again used his pump fake for an easy layup, extending Oregon's lead 15-10.
Jay-R Strowbridge made a great off-ball move to free himself for a 3-pointer which started a scoring flurry for the Ducks. Oregon's stingy defense forced another turnover and they capitalized as Jeremy Jacob converted a quick lay-up. Oregon had built some impressive momentum and the freshly christened Matthew Knight Arena erupted as Garrett Sim knocked down a long 3.
With 6 minutes left in the first half, Oregon was enjoying a 12-point lead; it's largest of the night. This would be the high point of the game for the Ducks, they had a double-digit lead and were shooting a remarkable 52% however, UCLA was ready to counter with some offense of their own.
UCLA's Lazeric Jones and Malcolm Lee helped bring UCLA to 3 points as the first half came to a close. Oregon had capitalized on second chance points and was doing an excellent job of keeping Joshua Smith in check but they would have their work cut out for them in the second half.
The second half would be a disappointment for the Ducks as they struggled to find their shooting touch and allowed UCLA to win the war on the glass.
"We had our opportunity there but we just got beat on the boards" explained Head Coach Dana Altman "in the second half, their second chance points were the difference in the game."
Oregon was +3 in rebounds in the first half but finished the game -7, a sign that Catron is desperately needed to return to action. With UCLA's considerable height advantage it was critical that the Ducks rebound as a team but they moved away from that and UCLA made the most of the open opportunities.
"Gotta get tough in the paint. Like Coach said, we need all 5 [players] on the rebounds, we can't have 3 people there when they have 5 guys around the rim" said a clearly frustrated Tyrone Nared.
Freshman behemoth Joshua Smith went to work in the second half, scoring 10 points and grabbing 6 rebounds. UCLA, who didn't record a single 2nd chance point in the first half, scored 15 2nd chance points in the second half.
Oregon's zone, which forced turnovers and kept UCLA at bay in the first half, became the victim of some lethal UCLA scoring in the final 5 minutes as the Bruins put the game out of reach.
UCLA overcame their first half woes and finished the game shooting an efficient 50% from the field, including 37.5% from behind the arc. Malcolm Lee led the Bruins with 18 points off of 7-13 shooting.
E.J. Singler scored 15 points, Jeremy Jacob tallied 12, Malcolm Armstead had 9 and Tyrone Nared contributed 9 for the Ducks. The Ducks finished the game shooting 37% but were only able to get the free throw line 8 times.
The Ducks will need Joevan Catron (calf) back if they wish to compete in the competitive Pac 10, Catron will be re-evaluated this week by Oregon's medical staff.
The Ducks will take on in-state rival Oregon State on January 22nd from Corvallis.