Dillon Brooks’ game-winning 3-pointer on Dec. 28 instantly erased the memory of it. With time winding down on UCLA’s first meeting with Oregon six weeks ago in Eugene, the Bruins spread the floor and Lonzo Ball drove for a clutch contested lay-up that appeared to seal a 14th consecutive win to begin the season.
Instead, UCLA lost a four-point lead in the last 15 seconds of the 89-87 loss, diminishing what was a massively clutch basket by Ball on the road against the current No. 5 team in the country.
After the freshman made four of his last five shots Thursday night, including a 30-foot step-back 3-pointer with 32 seconds left in UCLA’s season-altering 82-79 win over Oregon, you can understand why he characterizes the last few minutes of the game “my time to do what I’ve got to do.”
“I don’t get nervous,” he said Thursday night. “It’s the game of basketball, something I’ve been working for my whole life.”
Ball keeps finding different ways to prove his greatness. Thursday provided an array of examples.
UCLA’s point guard bounced back from one of his worst halves of the season to have one of his best. After his defensive assignment was flipped to Brooks with 16 minutes to play, he held Oregon’s leading scorer without a point over the game’s final 15 minutes.
“I think it was arguably Zo’s toughest 20 minutes (of the season) to start the game,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “And maybe one of his better 20 minutes after halftime. That’s how special he is.”
The nation’s leader in assists didn’t have a single one with 15 minutes left in the game. He had 5 points on six shots with 10:30 to play and UCLA didn’t have a single fast break point. The struggle was so evident in Ball’s body language, it created concern he may be playing through injury.
For a freshman who is carrying the largest load on his team to recover mentally in that fashion during a game UCLA trailed by 19 points is nothing short of remarkable. If UCLA can muster some strong defensive stretches like it did during a 14-0 run in the first half and the decisive 21-3 run in the second, Ball is proving he can take care of the rest.
Links from No. 10 UCLA’s 82-79 win over No. 5 Oregon:
Game story: Lonzo Ball delivers Bruins biggest win of the season
Mark Whicker: UCLA peeled itself off the floor and is flying high again
Notebook: UCLA honors broadcaster Dick Enberg
Video: Lonzo Ball on his most clutch performance this year
Video: Steve Alford on UCLA’s best defensive stretch of the season