Every time Bruins got rolling, Ducks put a stop to effort
LAS VEGAS — After leading Oregon to the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament title and winning the MVP award, Johnathan Loyd lingered at the free-throw line with his arms draped around his mother Pamela.
Confetti at his feet, a championship baseball cap tilted on his head and a wide smile on his face, he needed a few moments to relive the Ducks’ 78-69 victory over UCLA.
“He just wanted to soak it all in,” Pamela Loyd said. “He didn’t want to leave. It was a special night for him and everybody.”
Loyd was the last player to leave the court before climbing into the MGM Grand Garden Arena stands, where he hugged many of the 20 to 25 family and friends who came out Saturday night to see the former Las Vegas high school standout.
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“It means the world,” said Loyd, a junior who had a season-high 19 points, three assists and two steals. “I get to do it in front of my mom, my dad, all of my boys and my brothers. They hadn’t seen me play that much. It means a lot to me.”
The 5-foot-8 point guard was the unlikeliest of heroes.
He started the final 12 games of the regular season, but began the tournament on the bench, replaced in the starting lineup by Dominic Artis.
Loyd hit two key free throws late in regulation against Washington on Thursday in the Ducks’ 80-77 overtime victory. He played a supporting role Friday in Oregon’s blowout victory over Utah.
However, Saturday he overcame a shaky start that included two turnovers in the first seven minutes and settled down and began peppering the Bruins from the perimeter. He converted 8 of 14 shots, including two three-pointers. His last three-ball put Oregon ahead 18-16 and the Ducks never trailed again.
When he wasn’t dropping long-range daggers, Loyd delivered assists to Carlos Emory (20 points) for dunks and layups.
Oregon also received 19 points from freshman guard Damyean Dotson and 12 from senior forward Arsalan Kazemi.
Dotson and Kazemi were selected to the all-tournament team, but it was Loyd, the smallest Duck, who walked away the MVP.
“That never, never, never crossed my mind that I would be MVP,” Loyd said. “My teammates helped me. They gave me the ball when I was open. They put faith in me. They made sure I shot the ball when I was open and it paid off.”
In many ways, Loyd’s career at Oregon is a microcosm of the team’s success.
When Loyd was a freshman, the Ducks played in the College Basketball Invitational. Last year, they made it to the National Invitational Tournament.
This year Oregon was picked to finish seventh in the preseason standings and was seeded third in the tournament.
The Ducks stumbled into the Pac-12 tournament with two consecutive defeats that cost them a chance at the regular-season title.
However, the victory Saturday over top seed UCLA (25-9) guarantees Oregon (26-8) a berth to the NCAA tournament and its impressive week in Las Vegas could improve its seeding.
Oregon led 41-32 at halftime. No. 21-ranked UCLA, unlike in its previous games, could not rally. The Bruins played without standout freshman guard Jordan Adams.
Each Each time the Bruins made a run, the Ducks had an answer.
Larry Drew II, who scored 14 points, cut Oregon’s lead to two points (54-52) with 12:07 left. However, Oregon scored six straight points and was never seriously threatened again.
Shabazz Muhammad scored 14 for UCLA, Travis Wear 13, Kyle Anderson 11 and Norman Powell 10.
It was Oregon’s first conference tournament title since 2007. The win also denied UCLA a chance to become the first team since 2008 to win the regular-season title and the conference championship in the same season.
“We can use this as momentum going forward,” Loyd said. “We’re just getting started.”
• The Pac-12 all-tournament team included: Jahii Carson (Arizona State), Jordan Adams (UCLA), Larry Drew II (UCLA), Kazemi (Oregon), Dotson (Oregon) and MVP Loyd (Oregon).
• The Pac-12 honored the 12 newest inductees into its Hall of Honor during halftime. Renee Busch accepted a No. 2 Washington jersey on behalf of her son, former Husky standout Nate Robinson. The other inductees included: Jason Gardner (Arizona), Dennis Hamilton (Arizona State), Shareef Abdur-Rahim (California), Cliff Meely (Colorado), Chuck Rask (Oregon), Charlie Sitton (Oregon State), Ron Tomsic (Stanford), Lucius Allen (UCLA), Forrest Twogood (USC), Keith Van Horn (Utah) and James McKean (Washington State).
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @percyallen.