March 14, 2003
By BETH HARRIS
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES UCLA blew a late 11-point lead against Oregon and with it any chance of saving coach Steve Lavin's job.
Luke Jackson hit a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left Friday night in the Pac-10 Conference tournament semifinals, lifting the Ducks to a 75-74 victory.
Asked if it was his last game at UCLA, Lavin replied, "Let's put it this way, I'm probably not up for national or Pac-10 coach of the year honors."
Lavin didn't directly answer a question about what he's been told about his job status. "I've been told a lot of things over my time at UCLA," he said.
Jackson's basket capped a 13-1 run in the final three minutes by the Ducks (22-9), who advanced to Saturday's final against the winner of the No. 24 California-Southern California semifinal later Friday.
"Coach Lavin has done a great job here. He's hung through tough stretches when they were calling for his head and we were one 3-pointer short of going to the finals."
-- Jason Kapono
"I just kept telling them they were going to win the game," Oregon coach Ernie Kent said.
Pac-10 player of the year Luke Ridnour led the fifth-seeded Ducks with 16 points - his 31st straight game in double figures. James Davis added 15 points and Jackson had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
"We didn't play very well, but we kept fighting," said Ridnour, who only made two baskets in the second half.
Dijon Thompson led the eighth-seeded Bruins (10-19) with 23 points and senior Ray Young added 21 in the final game of his college career. Senior Jason Kapono, UCLA's offensive star, was held to five points, shooting just 2-of-10.
"He (Lavin) put all the blame on himself. In reality, it was our fault," Thompson said. "I don't think we played smart. It was like a nightmare. They started hitting 3s, it happens. We know we should have won the game. He wished us the best."
A victory would have put UCLA one win away from a most unlikely berth in the NCAA tournament. Instead, the Bruins concluded their first losing season in 55 years, which is expected to cost Lavin his job after seven years. He has a 145-78 record and took the Bruins to the final 16 of the NCAA tournament five times.
"I don't think this past year should take away our three straight Sweet 16 runs," Kapono said. "Coach Lavin has done a great job here. He's hung through tough stretches when they were calling for his head and we were one 3-pointer short of going to the finals."
The loss also ended UCLA's streak of 14 straight appearances in the NCAA tournament.
A day after rallying from 15 points down to stun No. 1 Arizona 96-89 in overtime, the Bruins seemed in command most of the way against the Ducks.
A basket by freshman Ryan Hollins with 3:12 remaining gave UCLA a 73-62 lead.
Davis hit a 3-pointer nine seconds later, triggering a 10-0 run that he capped with another 3-pointer that drew the Ducks within one with 1:17 left.
Young threw up an airball, Thompson grabbed it and got fouled. He made one of two as UCLA clung to a 74-72 lead with 40 seconds to play.
Ridnour missed a 3-pointer, but teammate Robert Johnson tipped the rebound back to him and he passed to Jackson, who connected from the top of the key.
Young shot an off-balance jumper from the right baseline in front of the Bruins' bench with the clock winding down. The ball hit the rim and bounced away, along with UCLA's hopes of turning around this forgettable season.
"It was what the defense gave me. I was fading away. I had a clean look," said Young, whose 3-pointer forced overtime against Arizona. "I felt I could knock it down. Just today it didn't go down. I kind of take the fall for my team."
Lavin expects to be fired as the result of the losing season at a school that has won 11 national championships - 10 under John Wooden and most recently under Jim Harrick in 1995.
"I just wish the outcome of this game was a positive one," he said. "I really wanted to see Jason and Ray finish their careers the way they deserved to. I'm sorry I couldn't do something to help us."
Lavin spent some private moments with his team in their locker room afterward.
"He told us to prepare for next year, just build on this," Hollins said. "He wasn't in tears, but he was emotional while he was talking."
Lavin was an unproven assistant when he was elevated to head coach after Harrick was fired just before the start of the 1996-97 season. He's endured almost constant criticism every season from alumni and students starved for another banner to hang in Pauley Pavilion.
"He went through so much, every day it was a media circus. They were just hunting him all year," sophomore Andre Patterson said. "He kept his head. That's what I'm grateful about. I'm thankful for Lav."