Tales From The Pit: #16 Oregon 68 – #1 UCLA 66
On a brisk Saturday afternoon in Eugene on January 6th, 2007, two early Pac-10 title contenders clashed in an epic game at storied MacArthur court. The 2:00 pm tipoff had been much anticpated, as the two teams were both nationally ranked in the top 20, and at that point had only one loss between them. A predictably loud and roudy crowd of 9,087 packed “The Pit”, and the expected influence on the game from the crowd was partially been responsible for the lower-ranked Ducks being a 2 point favorite coming in against the top rated Bruins.
That year the Duck men had exploded out of the gates, starting off the season 12-0. The offense was coming in bunches, and they had eclipsed the rarely seen 100-point mark twice. However, during the Thursday game of that week, Oregon had dropped it’s first game of the season, 84-82 to USC. With the loss, the pefect record was gone, but they still sat at a stout 12-1. Coach Ernie Kent had put together a particularly cohesive unit, who had thrived on speed, tempo, conditioning, and sharp shooting from each spot on the floor.
With one of the best starts to a season in school history in tow, Oregon entered the contest ranked as the #16 team in the nation. The team and the offense was led by guard Aaron Brooks, who had some up and downs early in his career, but that year had blossomed into an elite conference player. With star Malik Hairston on the bench nursing a heel injury, starting alongside Brooks in that game was true freshman guard and 3-point machine gun Tajuan Porter, athletic forwards Bryce Taylor, Chamberlain Oguchi, and the 6’10” match up nightmare from Redmond: Maarty Leunen.
#1 UCLA meanwhile, had ripped off 14 straight wins, were undefeated, and had rarely even been tested along the way. They had smashed the lowly beavs during their Thursday game 71-56. The Bruins had played themselves into the top ranking after having posted impressive wins on the road at Kentucky, and then orchestrating an absolute thrashing of Michigan, 92-55, in the preseason.
The talented UCLA team was brimming with future NBA talent. They featured an explosive starting line up with Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, Aaron Afflalo, Josh Shipp, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
From the opening tipoff, the game lived up to the hype of the rankings, and the Bruins jumped out to an early 8-5 lead. The Ducks would battle back and took a 16-11 lead on a Bryce Taylor layup with 13:37 to go in the 1st half.
The teams traded baskets for the rest of the half, but Oregon was able to maintain the lead. Boosted by Tajuan Porter’s 3 steals in the final :58 seconds, which led to scores by both Taylor and Brooks, gave the Ducks a 40-30 advantage at the half.
UCLA came out firing after the break, but Oregon was able to answer with big shots from both Leunen and Brooks. The Ducks would not trail in the second half. Despite the All-Conference roster, UCLA struggled especially to find an answer for Brooks. The speedy guard was able to slash into the lane continuously and scored a game high 25 points on 9-13 from the field and a conservative 1-1 from behind the 3 point line.
As talented teams often do, the Bruins were able to mount a run. Aaron Afflalo scored on a layup, and then hit a 3 to pull within 3, 64-61 with just 2:49 remaining. But the Ducks would stand their ground against the barrage from the Bruins. They played with confidence and resolve when it mattered most, showing that they possessed some greatness in their DNA too.
Oregon scored to stretch the lead out once again, and both teams battled in the final minutes. When Aaron Brooks was called for a foul, the Ducks were hanging onto a 66-61 advantage with just :45 seconds on the clock. UCLA converted both foul shots, and then managed to tie the game at 66-66 on a clutch Darren Collison 3 pointer with just :22 remaining. The crowd at Mac had cheered on a spirited performance by the home team all afternoon, but now the outcome was in question and fans were nervously counting down each tick of the clock.
In a surprisingly cool and collected effort, Aaron Brooks wasted little time as he took the inbounds pass, dribbled right up the court, and hit a bank-in jumper to give the Ducks a 2 point lead and leaving just :13 seconds in regulation. UCLA quickly called a timeout and drew up a scoring play to extend or win the game. Out of the break, forward Josh Shipp got a good look, but misfired on a last second attempt on a would be game winning 3. The Ducks controlled the rebound as the buzzer sounded.
Here is a great video of the final sequence, shot from the stands:
And here is a version of the final stretch from the TV broadcast:
The Oregon Ducks and Mac Court had slayed the #1 team in the country, and saddled UCLA with their first loss of the season. The relieved and overjoyed Duck fans enthusiastically rushed the court in celebration.
Oregon had held off a balanced Bruin attack with Russell Westbrook scoring 10 points, Aaron Afflalo accounted for 14, Darren Collison 11, and Josh Shipp added another 14. Big man Luc Richard Mbah a Moute led all players with 8 rebounds, which helped the Bruins to a 35-22 overall advantage on the boards. The Bruins held a 10-6 edge in steals but lost the turnover battle overall, 17-14. On that day, UCLA also had struggled with efficency en route to shooting just 41.8% on field goals, and an anemic 12-18 (66.7%) on free throws for the game.
It was the first defeat for the Bruins since losing in the National Championship game against Florida the year before.
Said UCLA Senior Aaron Afflalo “I never thought I would feel this again in my career. I truly though this team couldn’t be beat… I wouldn’t say we were invincible, but I didn’t think we could be beat.
“This is probably my worst loss ever.”
Conversely, Oregon was superb in converting on 19-21 free throw attempts for an outstanding team effort of 90.5%. While Brooks led the way in scoring, it was the freshman Tajuan Porter who logged a game high 38 minutes. TP did not have his best game against the NBA ready Bruin guards, going just 2-9 from the field and 2-7 from 3 for 9 points. Bryce Taylor added 11 points, and “Champ” Oguchi contributed 5. Maarty Leunen had a big game of his own, pouring in 18 points and ripping down 7 rebounds.
Head coach Ernie Kent praised his team after the game, ” This is a together basketball team, their spirit is unbelievable… This was a moment for me to embrace that building (Mac Court) again. It is such a great building with so much history and tradition and passion. I’ve been there as a player, and as coach, but this is the first time this group has experienced that.”
“It just shows we can play with anybody” explained Aaron Brooks.
Here are some more game highlights from the stands:
The game marked an early high point in a great season that saw the Ducks win the Pac-10 tournament and reach their 2nd Elite Eight game under coach Ernie Kent. The 2007 upset of #1 UCLA will be remembered as one of the most exciting wins of the 2000’s in Mac Court history.