Dylan Andrews and UCLA can't conjure any last-second magic in season-ending loss

UCLA guard Dylan Andrews (2) shoots over Oregon center N'Faly Dante (1) and guard Jackson Shelstad.
UCLA guard Dylan Andrews shoots over Oregon center N'Faly Dante (1) and guard Jackson Shelstad (3) during the first half of the Bruins' 68-66 loss Thursday in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals. (John Locher / Associated Press)

Nearly 30 years after Tyus Edney made 4.8 seconds part of the UCLA basketball lexicon, the Bruins needed some 4.4 magic.

That’s how many seconds remained in a bonkers Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal that saw UCLA seemingly beaten only for its point guard to drag his team back to the verge of an improbable comeback.

Dylan Andrews had trumpeted his status as a rising star by his strong play in recent weeks. Now, with those handful of seconds left, he could join Edney in Bruins lore.

His team trailing Oregon by two points Thursday inside T-Mobile Arena, Andrews took an inbounds pass deep in the backcourt. He zipped ahead, keeping coach Mick Cronin’s instructions in mind.

Read more: Keeping it in the UCLA family, Adem Bona wins Pac-12 defensive player of the year

“Coach told me four seconds left, that I just have four dribbles,” Andrews said. “And to make a play.”

The Bruins planned to set a fade screen for sharpshooter Will McClendon, along with a fake screen for Andrews. Looming near the rim for a lob was center Adem Bona.

Andrews took the game into his own hands, as he so often had in recent weeks, driving just inside the free throw line. He unleashed a floater that cleared the outstretched hand of N’Faly Dante but bounced off the back of the rim.

Game over. Season over. Magic denied.

In a fitting end to their first losing season in nearly a decade, the fifth-seeded Bruins dropped a 68-66 heartbreaker to the fourth-seeded Ducks. UCLA (16-17) finished with its worst record since going 15-17 in 2015-16 while also snapping Cronin’s streak of taking his teams to 12 consecutive NCAA tournaments.

UCLA center Aday Mara, left, tries to block a shot by Oregon guard Kario Oquendo during the first half Thursday.
UCLA center Aday Mara, left, tries to block a shot by Oregon guard Kario Oquendo during the first half Thursday. (John Locher / Associated Press)

“It just hurts me right now that it’s over for us,” Andrews said in the locker room after stifling tear-induced sniffles, “but we’re going to get back to the drawing board and I hope everybody just remembers this feeling.”

In a strong encore to his career-high 31 points a day earlier, Andrews scored 24 points and sparked his team’s comeback from a 10-point deficit with four minutes left. Andrews’ jumper started a 9-0 run by the Bruins that he completed with a steal and layup that pulled his team within 63-62.

Andrews had a chance to put UCLA ahead on its next possession but his floater rolled off the rim. Dante got the bounce on a jump hook to put Oregon back up by three points before Andrews countered with a driving layup with 11 seconds to go.

The teams traded free throws before Andrews’ final chance to send the game into overtime was off the mark.

“You did a great job,” Cronin told his point guard while sitting next to him in the interview room afterward. “The ball just didn't go in.”

That was a theme for the Bruins while making only two of 11 three-pointers in the second half and missing the front end of two one-and-one situations on the way to losing their five-point halftime advantage. They also played long stretches without center Adem Bona, who was limited to 17 minutes because of foul trouble.

During a halftime interview with the Pac-12 Network, Cronin lambasted referees over what he described as a bias against Bona.

“It’s ridiculous, the way Bona’s treated in our league. Completely ridiculous,” Cronin told the network. “It’s been going on all year too.”

Oregon (21-11) will play top-seeded Arizona in a semifinal Friday evening after Dante scored 22 points and grabbed six rebounds while taking full advantage of Bona’s absence. At one point early in the second half, Cronin laughed at the absurdity of a late whistle on Bona after he had appeared to come up with a steal.

Read more: Mick Cronin says UCLA's disappointing season is '100%' on him

After the game, Cronin said he would not comment on the officiating other than to allude to what might have happened with Bona playing his usual allotment of minutes.

“Tonight we're plus-seven with him on the floor,” Cronin said. “What if he had played 30 minutes? Plus-12, plus-15, easy victory. You guys saw the same stuff I saw. And I've already watched it on the video.”

In what could have been his final college game before heading to the NBA, Bona finished with eight points and four rebounds. His eyes welling from emotion, Bona declined to speak with reporters in the locker room afterward.

Meanwhile, Andrews, junior guard Lazar Stefanovic and freshman guard Jan Vide told The Times that they intended to return next season to run it back alongside a core group that would no longer comprise one of the youngest teams in college basketball, should everyone come back from a team featuring seven freshmen and three sophomores.

“If this whole entire team comes back,” Andrews said, “that would be special. You know, we have a year of great experience under us now.”

Cronin reiterated his culpability for constructing a roster featuring so much youth after largely striking out in the transfer portal with the exception of Stefanovic.

“It’s hard when you’re asking guys to do stuff they’re not ready to do yet, they’re not trained to do yet,” Cronin said of his team’s shortcomings. “Unless your talent supersedes your inexperience, it’s really, really hard. And our talent didn’t supersede our inexperience this year. So therefore I had to ask a lot of guys to do stuff they weren’t quite ready to do.”

Cronin and every player on his roster have decisions to make about what this roster will look like next season.

“Look, it's all crazy,” Cronin said of the new world order in college athletics. “Everybody's a free agent. It's the way it is. We'll deal with it all.”

Including the closing seconds of one final defeat, a season ending in a blur of disappointment.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.