In a town where nothing is ever certain, one thing was a stone cold lock Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena — an alumnus of Bishop Gorman High School was leaving with a strand of net from the Pacific 12 Conference tournament championship game.
The question was, which Gael would climb the ladder?
Turned out that Johnathan Loyd and Ben Carter would get the honors as Loyd led the third-seeded Ducks to the Pac-12 title and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with an impressive 78-69 win over Shabazz Muhammad and top-seeded UCLA in front of 11,101.
For Oregon (26-8), it was the first Pac-12 tournament title since 2007.
Loyd, who got to climb a ladder playing for Gorman coach Grant Rice in 2009 and 2010, had 12 first-half points to help put Oregon up 41-32 at intermission. The 5-foot-8-inch junior, who started out 5 of 7 from the floor, finished with 19 points and three assists and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“It means so much to be able to come home and do this in front of my family and friends,” Loyd said. “We beat a great team but we’re a great team too and we proved it here.”
Teammate E.J. Singler said Loyd was the difference.
“He was unbelievable,” Singler said. “He was our leader all week and we followed him.”
UCLA (25-9) played without star freshman guard Jordan Adams, who broke his right foot on the final play of the Bruins’ 66-64 semifinal win over Arizona, and he sorely was missed.
Charles Powell started in his place and had 10 points and four rebounds. Larry Drew II and Travis Wear tried to pick up the slack with 14 and 13 points, respectively, but Oregon countered whatever the UCLA duo were putting in offensively.
Carlos Emory gave the Ducks a big lift off the bench with 20 points, 12 in the opening 20 minutes.
“He’s one of our best players, and when you lose one of your best players, it’s something you have to overcome,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “We didn’t have time to adjust offensively without Jordan.”
As for Muhammad, it was yet another frustrating night shooting the ball. He was 5 of 13 from the floor and added six rebounds to go with his 14 points. But he never could get comfortable playing on the Grand Garden floor. In the end, all he could do was watch Carter, his former Gorman teammate, and Loyd grab some net as a souvenir.
UCLA will have to figure out how to best get along without Adams during the NCAA Tournament. At times, the Bruins looked disjointed offensively. Travis Wear will need to shoot a higher percentage than the 4 of 12 Saturday that got him his 13 points.
The Ducks, who got 13 points from Damyean Dotson and 12 from Arsalan Kazemi, used their bench effectively as coach Dana Altman liberally rotated players in and out without losing much continuity. Credit Oregon’s willingness to get to the basket and either finish or get fouled instead of settling for the uncertainty of life on the perimeter for helping them get the win Saturday.
Carter played 18 minutes and finished with two points and five rebounds. Oregon guard Dominic Artis, a Findlay Prep product, went scoreless in his 13-minute stint.
Maybe the only person happier inside the Grand Garden than the Ducks’ players and coaches was Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. It was Scott’s idea to move the tournament to Las Vegas, and Scott was thrilled with the week at the MGM.
“I think it’s fair to say Year One has exceeded our expectations in many respects,” Scott said of the beginning of the league’s three-year deal with the MGM and Las Vegas Events. “I think there’s a lot of potential for this to go beyond three years.”
Attendance was up from a year ago when the tournament was played at Staples Center in Los Angeles and averaged 8,936 per session for six sessions. Through the first five sessions at the MGM, the average attendance was 10,529, with Friday’s semifinals selling out.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.