The possession had been lost, and maybe the game, as Moses Brown sulked his way back on defense.
Head down, shoulders slumped, the UCLA freshman center had just thrown the ball out of bounds with a little more than two minutes left in overtime and his team trailing Oregon by two points.
As the Ducks prepared to inbound the ball, Bruins point guard Jaylen Hands walked over to his teammate and slapped his hand before quickly, but tenderly, placing that same hand under Brown’s chin and tilting it upward.
UCLA never could have completed what might have been the craziest comeback in school history without the Bruins keeping each other’s chins up.
“I didn’t want him to feel down,” Hands said after the Bruins wiped out a 17-point second-half deficit on the way to an 87-84 victory in overtime Thursday at Matthew Knight Arena. “You know, we all made mistakes that game.”
Did they ever.
The Bruins couldn’t box out or make free throws. They continually lost the ball dribbling up the court and fumbled passes from teammates only a few feet away. Hands and Kris Wilkes had more turnovers than baskets.
Yet they emerged with a most improbable victory after showing a collective resolve that had been missing for most of the season. Not even a nine-point deficit with 51 seconds remaining in regulation could stop them.
“They just kept battling, kept fighting,” UCLA interim coach Murry Bartow said after improving to 3-0 since replacing Steve Alford. “A lot of guys stepped up and made big plays.”
The postgame spotlight was squarely fixed on forward Chris Smith for collecting a loose ball and laying it into the basket to tie the score with 0.7 seconds left in regulation. But the Bruins wouldn’t have been in position to make the biggest comeback in the final minute of a Pac-12 Conference game without several other contributors.
Jules Bernard sparked UCLA’s 15-point barrage over the final 50 seconds of regulation with a three-point shot. Hands added a three-pointer and later made all three free throws after being fouled on another shot beyond the arc. Prince Ali forced a turnover in the back court by knocking the ball off the ankle of Oregon’s Payton Pritchard and made a three-pointer with five seconds left.
Oregon fouled Hands while holding a three-point lead with 2.6 seconds left in a move that would prevent the Bruins from getting off a three-pointer that could tie the score. But Hands outfoxed the Ducks by making the first free throw and throwing the second off the back of the rim.
Smith raced in from beyond the three-point line, grabbed the ball after Brown lost it and made the layup that tied the score.
“It just shows the grit we have to never give up, not even in someone else’s place,” Smith said. “I feel like a lot of other teams would have given up by then.”
Smith was fouled on the play but missed the free throw, and the game went to overtime.
The Bruins had to redouble their efforts after falling behind by four points in the extra session. Ali tied the score with two free throws and a driving layup. Hands broke the resulting deadlock with a jumper that bounced in. Brown added a free throw to complete UCLA’s game-ending 7-0 run.
Outside a jubilant locker room, Smith credited another source for the comeback. It was the coach who continually encouraged his players to get the deficit to nine points only to see them exceed his wildest hopes.
“It was all Bartow,” Smith said. “He was just telling us to keep going, not to give up. Bartow’s got no quit in him and it was contagious, so we didn’t quit either.”
The Bruins’ fight was best symbolized by a softhearted gesture, a hand that uplifted a teammate and a team’s spirit.
“We all love each other, we all have each other’s backs,” Hands said, “so we just did it for each other.”