SEATTLE — In the final chapter of a trilogy of epic battles between Pac-12 Conference heavyweights Oregon and UCLA this season, the UO women's basketball team came back from a double-digit deficit to beat the Bruins, 65-62, in the conference tournament semifinals Saturday at KeyArena.
The sixth-ranked and top-seeded Oregon women (29-4) trailed by 13 in the second quarter, and by seven midway through the fourth. But the Ducks didn't allow a point over the final 5:38, and finished the game on a 10-0 run to sweep all three matchups with the No. 8 Bruins this season.
"That's a Final Four caliber team, with Final Four caliber athletes and coaching staff," said Oregon head coach Kelly Graves, whose team advanced to Sunday's final for the first time in program history. "For some reason they bring out the best in us, that's for sure.
How It Happened: UCLA (24-7) came into the game off a tough quarterfinal battle against California, and maintained that edge in the early going Saturday. The Bruins dominated the boards early, and led 32-19 midway through the second half — matching the largest deficit Oregon had faced all season. The Ducks finished the quarter on a 13-2 run to trailed 34-32 at halftime, and enjoyed a lead early in the third, but UCLA surged back ahead and led 62-55 midway through the fourth.
That's when Oregon, which enjoyed fresher legs after coasting past Colorado in the quarterfinals, wrestled away momentum. With the Ducks down 62-56, Oti Gildon — in after an injury to Satou Sabally — came up with a huge offensive rebound, was fouled and made two free throws. After a UCLA miss, Lexi Bando broke Oregon's record for career three-pointers with No. 271 of her career, getting the Ducks within 62-61.
The Ducks turned it over on their next two possessions, but also got three straight stops on the defensive end — and kept the Bruins off the offensive glass in doing so. Maite Cazorla made the go-ahead basket, getting to the hoop on a pick-and-roll play, and after forcing a turnover the Ducks iced it when Sabrina Ionescu found Gildon wide open underneath the basket with 31 seconds to play.
"We didn't show many signs we were going to win that thing until late," Graves said. "It didn't appear, at times, to be our day. And these guys just gutted it out."
It took a 40-minute effort. Oregon led 9-7 early after Cazorla crossed over a defender and got to the hoop, but the Ducks then went 4:24 without a field goal and UCLA built a five-point lead that it sustained at the end of the first quarter, 19-14. Early in the second, Oregon managed only a three-point play by Ionescu as the Bruins raced out to a 30-17 lead with an 11-3 run capped by a Jordin Canada three.
The lead remained 13 at 32-19 when the Ducks mustered what proved to be a crucial run. Ruthy Hebard started it with Oregon's first second-chance points of the game, and then Bando and Ionescu hit back-to-back three to make it 32-27. After two free throws by Canada, Cazorla hit a three and Bando added a jumper, getting Oregon within 34-32 at halftime.
"In the first half, we were as poor offensively as we'd been," said Graves, whose team shot 13-of-30 (41.2 percent). "But we at least got a little bit of life."
Hebard tied it up with a bucket to open the second half, and Cazorla hit another three to put the Ducks up, 37-34. But that was Oregon's last field goal for a stretch of 8:02. UCLA used that funk to mount a 17-8 run, going up 51-45 on a Monique Billings basket that was the Bruins' third field-goal attempt of the possession. When Canada banked in a three for a 54-48 lead early in the fourth, it looked like UCLA's night. But the Ducks weren't done, and stayed alive for Sunday's final.
Who Stood Out: Hebard posted her second double-double of the tournament, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds in a rough game that officials mostly allowed to be decided between the two teams. Ionescu led the Ducks with 17 points, Cazorla added 14 and Bando had 11. Hebard had four of the Ducks' six blocked shots, and Cazorla had three of their 10 steals.
What It Means: The Ducks reached the tournament final for the first time in four semifinal appearances, and further cemented their case to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament later this month.
Up Next: The Ducks will face Stanford or Arizona State for the Pac-12 Tournament championship and an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament on Sunday (6 p.m. PT, ESPN2).