It seems the Bruins coaxed a victory dance from their reticent coach after all.
Kennedy Burke had a career-high 29 points and UCLA came back from a 22-point deficit to knock off No. 2 Oregon 74-69 on Friday night.
“I’m a terrible dancer,” Close said, “I have no rhythm, but somehow they get me to dance after things like this, so I just enjoyed it and complimented them on their growth.”
When did the mood to dance come over the eighth-year coach?
“Not until the buzzer went off,” she said. “When you’re playing against a team as good as Oregon and as well-coached as Oregon is, you don’t relax until the very, very end.
“That’s why this is a monumental win for our program.”
Burke was 12 of 17 from the field and had eight rebounds for the Bruins (17-10, 10-5 Pac-12), who won for the eighth time in the last nine games. Japreece Dean added 14 points and Michaela Onyenwere had 12.
UCLA outscored the Ducks 36-14 over a large portion of the second half to lead 68-60. Oregon pulled within 70-69 on Sabrina Ionescu’s 3-pointer with 34 seconds left, but the Bruins scored the last four points at the foul line.
Burke’s biggest rebound came with the Bruins up 72-69 when Ahlana Smith missed the second of two free throws. Burke chased the ball down in the corner with 11.4 seconds left, drew Ionescu’s fifth foul in the process and sealed the win with two clinching free throws.
“Kennedy Burke (had) just a monster game,” Close said. “I thought she was the mismatch that we were able to take advantage of, and she just had a great game.”
Erin Boley led the Ducks (24-3, 13-2) with 20 points, Ionescu had 18 and Maite Cazorla 13. Oregon was playing without junior forward Ruthy Hebard, who injured her right knee in Monday night’s 67-62 loss at No. 12 Oregon State.
“I give UCLA credit,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “They played hard, they played well and they exploited us where we were weak.”
With Hebard sidelined, UCLA was able to switch more on defense instead of trying to stop Oregon’s lethal pick-and-roll. The Ducks also missed the 6-foot-4 Hebard’s rebounding, especially after she’d had 18, including 10 on the offensive end, in their 72-52 win against the Bruins a month ago.
“Against these guys who switch (on defense), that’s when you’ve got to have your hammer,” Graves said. “When we’ve got Ruthy inside, they’ve got no match for that and we didn’t, so we weren’t quite as intimidating inside and they could play our perimeter kids a little better.”
Oregon was just 6 of 26 from 3-point range, a far cry from the team that once led the nation beyond the arc at 43 percent.
“You’re not going to beat many teams like that,” Graves said.
It was the first back-to-back losses for the Ducks since they dropped three in a row to end the 2016-17 regular season, a span of 71 games.
Oregon made 10 of its first 15 shots to lead 23-12 after one quarter. The lead grew to 22 points behind 13 by Boley before the Bruins scored the last seven points of the first half to trail 42-27.
UCLA gets its first win of the season over a Top 10 team with an impressive comeback from a sluggish first half. The Bruins also broke a five-game losing streak against the Ducks.
Oregon struggled to cope without the inside presence of star forward Hebard and her 69.0 percent shooting, second in the nation, against a projected NCAA Tournament team. The Ducks need one win to clinch at least a share of their second straight Pac-12 regular-season title.
Oregon’s ranking, at No. 2 its highest ever, will slip considerably with the home loss to an unranked opponent. The larger concern, with Hebard’s return still uncertain, may be the top seed in the West Regional, which would put the Ducks in Portland if they advance to the Sweet 16.
Despite the loss, Graves believes Oregon can make a strong case for a No. 1 seed by winning the conference title. “I don’t think we’re hitting the panic button yet,” he said. “We’re still 24-3 and in good position. We’ve just hit a little rough patch and we’ll work our way out of it. If there was just something I could magically say, I would have already said it.”
STAT OF THE NIGHT:
Oregon made just 2 of 14 from 3-point range in the second half and was outscored 47-27 over the final 20 minutes.
UCLA: visits Oregon State on Sunday.
Oregon: hosts USC on Sunday.