SAVED BY THE BARON; DAVIS' BUZZER-BEATER GIVES UCLA THE WIN : UCLA 79 OREGON 77.
From embarrassment to ecstasy in 48 hours, it was a week even Baron Davis found unique.
Two days after he was publicly reprimanded by the Pac-10 for criticizing an official - and forced to apologize to avoid suspension - Davis made the game-winning basket as time expired to give UCLA a 79-77 victory over Oregon on Thursday in front of 10,270 at Pauley Pavilion.
Davis' heroics began with seven seconds remaining, when he grabbed an inbound pass and dribbled upcourt. As he approached the lane, Davis accelerated, then gained his balance, stopped abruptly, and drained a 15-footer as the buzzer sounded.
``It was luck,'' said Davis, who also made the game-winner against Oregon last year at Pauley. ``I tried to push the ball up and take the first available shot.
``I've taken shots like that in practice, but I remembered the Arizona State game and how I got in too deep and they blocked my shot. When we broke the huddle, (assistant) coach (Steve) Spencer said the midrange jumper would be open.''
After the game, beaming in front of his locker, Davis dismissed the redemption theme. He admitted to being depressed early in the week, after his post-Washington criticism of official Terry Christman drew the Pac-10's wrath. But he had recovered by tipoff and played one of his best floor games, with 12 points, a career-high 11 assists and the basket that broke Oregon's heart.
While the transition from sorrow to joy has never been so swift, Davis' agonizing public experiences - from Blazergate in 1996 to a severe knee injury last March - helped keep his psyche straight.
``After the Washington game, I was down, real down, but I've had experiences like this,'' he said. ``What happened my senior year (Blazergate) helped prepare me for this. It helped me bounce back. I used that to handle this.''
No doubt, Davis handled his reprimand better than the Bruins handled Oregon. UCLA played stifling defense in the final minutes, but for most of the game it seemed distracted - as if this were a pre-Christmas snoozer against American University. Perhaps the Bruins were thinking about the revenge game Sunday against Oregon State. Perhaps, as coach Steve Lavin believes, they are fatigued.
Whatever the reason, the Bruins were sluggish, uninterested and sloppy. Since the spirited victory at Louisville two weeks ago, they have regressed - and done so at the worst possible time: The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee puts a premium on a team's performance in its final 10 games.
UCLA (16-5, 7-3), which moved into a second-place tie with Arizona, has nine left.
``Oregon beat us to the punch in transition and on the boards, similar to what Washington did,'' Lavin said. ``It wasn't the prettiest game, but it was hard-fought and we found a way to win.''
The Ducks, who have lost eight Pac-10 games at the buzzer/overtime, shot 69 percent in the second half and outrebounded UCLA 37-25. For 38 minutes, the best team wore green.
``UCLA has an NBA player in Baron and a No. 1 recruiting class,'' Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. ``I've got to believe we did something right.''
Until the final minutes, when they did nothing right.
The Bruins trailed 77-73 with a minute remaining when forward Jerome Moiso hit a 16-foot jumper. Thirty seconds later, Davis stole the ball from Oregon's A.D. Smith and found guard Ray Young for the tying dunk.
The Ducks set a play for freshman Freddie Jones, but he charged into UCLA's Earl Watson, giving the Bruins the ball and Davis the spotlight.
``We played well on defense down the stretch, that's what I'm proud of,'' Davis said.
UCLA played most of the second half without its big men, Dan Gadzuric, whose right knee ached from tendinitis, and Moiso, who was ineffective against Oregon's small, quick lineup.
But JaRon Rush and reserve Travis Reed helped compensate, combining for 30 points in the most productive game they have played in weeks. Rush was especially effective, with a team-high 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
``I was really comfortable tonight,'' he said. ``I wasn't nervous at all. It was just like a high school game.''
Note: UCLA senior Liron Artzi, a Woodland Hills resident and Taft High graduate, won books and tuition for a year - about $5,000 - by making a halfcourt shot during a GTE-sponsored halftime contest.
Photo: UCLA's Baron Davis had a busy week, from his reprimand by the Pac-10 to hitting the game-winning shot Thursday to beat Oregon.
Phil McCarten/Daily News