Oregon 75, UCLA 74
At the end of the worst UCLA basketball season in generations, and undoubtedly the most trying in history, all Bruins Coach Steve Lavin could do was stare into the cameras and smile when asked tonight about the speculation surrounding his future at the school.
"Let's put it this way," Lavin said. "I'm probably not up for national or Pacific-10 coach of the year honors."
It was a moment of humor in an otherwise torturous night for Lavin and his team. Leading by 12 points with less than four minutes to play, the Bruins collapsed and lost 75-74 to Oregon in the Pac-10 tournament semifinals on Luke Jackson's three-pointer with 17 seconds remaining.
UCLA (10-19) had a chance to win the game on its final possession -- and continue its improbable advance through this tournament. But Ray Young's baseline jumper with three seconds left bounced off the rim and was knocked to the sideline, sending Oregon into Saturday's championship.
"We didn't play very well or shoot the ball well," Oregon point guard Luke Ridnour said. "But we kept fighting, and things started going in our favor."
UCLA succumbed to Oregon's pressure defense, turning over the ball three times, missing three shots and botching an alley-oop in the final three minutes.
"I just wish I was able to do something to help us get the win down the stretch," said Lavin, whose team was coming off a stunning upset of No. 1 Arizona in Thursday's quarterfinals.
It was the second consecutive day in which Oregon (22-9) won in the closing seconds. The Ducks defeated Arizona State on Ridnour's driving lay-up Thursday and got a pair of three-pointers from James Davis in the last two minutes tonight. Davis finished with 15 points as one of four Oregon scorers in double figures.
The Ducks advanced to play the winner of the second semifinal between Southern California and California on Saturday at 6 p.m. UCLA, meantime, will decide whether to retain Lavin, who spoke afterward of his seven-year tenure as coach in the past tense. He called this year's group his "final team."
"It's been a wonderful run, a great run," said Lavin, who led UCLA to six NCAA tournament appearances but has not received the support of first-year athletic director Dan Guerrero. "I've always seen it as a gift."
UCLA got only one point down the stretch, a free throw by Dijon Thompson with 40 seconds left, and was outscored by Oregon 13-1 in the final 3 minutes 20 seconds.
"Coach Lavin's done a great job here," guard Jason Kapono said. "He's hung through the tough stretches when they've been calling for his head. And we were one three-pointer away from going to the finals. It's kind of sweet because we gave a good run at it."