Since ascending to No. 2, the highest ranking in program history, the Ducks are 0-2.
Oregon coughed up a 22-point lead and lost 74-69 to UCLA on Friday night in front of a stunned crowd of 8,858 at Matthew Knight Arena.
The Ducks’ (24-3, 13-2) lead over No. 7 Stanford (22-4, 12-3) and No. 12 Oregon State (22-5, 12-3) in the Pac-12 standings is down to one game with three games remaining in the regular season.
In the somber postgame locker room, coach Kelly Graves tried to pick up his team’s spirits by laying out a favorable path to the Final Four.
“If we win the Pac-12, I have a really good feeling,” Graves said of playing first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games at Matthew Knight Arena with the possibility of advancing to the Sweet 16 and the program’s third consecutive Elite Eight appearance at Moda Center. “I think the NCAA is going to want to put us in Portland. We’re going to draw, it’s going to be a big deal.
“But we’ve got to finish this thing. Today is the first time I’ve said, listen, this is what we can do.”
After a frustrating evening, it appears the Ducks need Ruthy Hebard to get healthy before the March madness begins.
The junior forward, who finished with 19 points and 18 rebounds during Oregon’s 72-52 win at UCLA on Jan. 13, watched helplessly from the bench as counterpart Kennedy Burke carved up the Ducks with a carer-high 29 points on 12-for-17 shooting.
Hebard is out of the lineup indefinitely with a knee injury suffered during Monday’s 67-62 loss to the rival Beavers in Corvallis.
“Of course we miss Ruthy, but at the same time we have to step up in certain areas,” Erin Boley said after scoring 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting to highlight Oregon’s otherwise anemic offense. “We have to do a better job rebounding and making up for the loss of rebounds that we don’t have with her.”
The Ducks shot 25 percent (11-for-31), including 2-for-14 (12.5 percent) on 3-pointers, during the second-half collapse.
The Bruins (17-10, 10-5), who have won eight of their last nine games, surged ahead in the fourth quarter with a 9-0 run capped on a layup by Michaela Onyenwere.
UCLA led 68-60 after a 3-pointer by Japreece Dean with 3:45 remaining.
“I’m quite disappointed,” Graves said. “I didn’t think we were very good tonight, didn’t play with a lot of intensity in that second half, and certainly down the stretch didn’t play with a whole lot of poise.”
A 3-pointer by Sabrina Ionescu pulled Oregon to within 70-69 with 33.6 seconds left, but Onyenwere made two free throws at the other end.
After two missed free throws by teammate Ahlana Smith, Burke grabbed an offensive rebound and then made her foul shots to ice the game with 11.4 seconds left.
“It would have been nice to have (Hebard) on that last free throw,” Graves lamented. “Come on, those are plays we have to make. There is no excuse. We’ve got to make that play.”
Senior forward Oti Gildon, making her first start of the season in place of Hebard, had six points and eight rebounds in 33 minutes.
Ionescu (18 points) and Satou Sabally (eight points) both fouled out in the final minute and finished a combined 10-for-29 from the field.
Maite Cazorla, whose family made the trip from Spain and surprised the senior point guard before the game, scored 13 points but was 1-for-5 on 3-pointers.
“We didn’t come out good at all in the beginning of the third quarter,” Boley said. “I think we let our guard down a little bit, and it just sort of went downhill from there.”
The Bruins cut the deficit to single-digits after Lindsey Corsaro’s second 3-pointer of the third quarter. A basket by Smith got UCLA within 50-43, but Ionescu answered with a 3-pointer to bump the lead back to 10 points.
Oregon did not score over the final 2 minutes, 46 seconds of the third quarter and shot 24 percent (4-for-16) in the frame.
A 3-pointer by Burke made the score 53-48 entering the fourth quarter.
“I thought that third quarter we just lost some intensity defensively. Offensively, we’ve been a mess for a while,” said Graves, whose team shot a season-low 35.8 percent during the loss in Corvallis in which Hebard was injured in the second quarter. “Teams like this that switch, that’s when you’ve got to have you hammer.
"Because when you’ve got Ruthy inside, they have no match for that. And we didn’t, so we weren’t quite as intimidating inside.”
Oregon led 23-12 at the end of the first quarter after shooting 62.5 percent from the field while the Bruins went 4-for-14 (28.6 percent).
Boley capped a 10-0 run with one of her three first-half 3-pointers to give the Ducks their largest lead, 40-18, with 4:10 remaining in the second quarter.
UCLA ended the half on a 7-0 run to close its deficit to 42-27 at the intermission.
The Ducks will host USC in the regular-season home finale on Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena. The Trojans (15-11, 5-10) lost 68-61 at No. 12 Oregon State on Friday.
“If this doesn’t light a fire under them, I don’t know what does,” Graves said. “That should be enough seeing another team walk off victorious on our court. First time it’s happened this year. We’ll see what they’re made of.”