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Archive for Saturday, March 24, 2007

UCLA sends KU packing en route to second straight Final Four

March 24, 2007

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From the Associated Press

San Jose - Arron Afflalo will get a second chance to shine in the Final Four - and he earned it by seizing the spotlight when UCLA most needed its leader.

In an exceptional second half that should help erase memories of his past mediocrity in big games, Afflalo scored 15 of his 24 points and the Bruins held off top-seeded Kansas for a 68-55 victory Saturday night in the West Regional championship.

Darren Collison added 14 points and four big free throws in the final seconds while leading the Bruins' stellar defensive effort - but whenever the Bruins faced offensive trouble, Afflalo seemed to solve it, either by hitting a big shot or drawing the defense to set up a teammate.

"I don't really think about it during the game, but when you're making shots, you're gaining confidence," said Afflalo, who was 6-for-6 in the second half. "My teammates showed a lot of confidence in me. Keep shooting, keep playing. That has to be a scorer's mentality."

Second-seeded UCLA (30-5) made its halftime lead stand up in an appropriately tense meeting between two schools with rich traditions and a combined 29 Final Four appearances - including an NCAA-record 17th for UCLA next week in Atlanta.

The Bruins, who lost to Florida in last season's national title game, could be in for a rematch: They'll meet Sunday's winner of the Gators' regional final against Oregon.

"It feels good," Collison said. "We felt that we didn't finish the job last year, so we're going to enjoy this moment, and then go back and try to finish it."

Brandon Rush scored 18 points for the Jayhawks (33-5), the first No. 1 seed to be eliminated from the tournament. Their 14-game winning streak also was snapped in the school's first NCAA tournament loss in California, where this game had a decided home-court feel for the Bruins.

"I think we beat ourselves, but I have to give credit to their defense," said Rush, among several Jayhawks soon to be considering jumps to the NBA. "We just did some dumb stuff - dumb plays on defense and dumb plays on offense. We just had careless turnovers."

The teams combined for 32 steals and 46 turnovers - yet both thought the game wasn't particularly sloppy. Two strong defensive teams collided, but only Afflalo and his teammates had the strength of experience to breakthrough.

"We beat the best team we played all year today," UCLA coach Ben Howland said.

Afflalo's teammates surrounded him in celebration after the buzzer, and the crowd chanted "One more year!" at the smiling junior as he pulled on a commemorative T-shirt and hat.

Though Kansas is loaded with star talent, the Bruins returned with several major contributors to last season's run. That experience showed in every pressure-packed possession between teams that began the season with the Final Four as their only acceptable destination.

Afflalo likely felt more pressure than anyone: The Pac-10 player of the year had a dismaying habit of disappearing in big games.

Fan reactions

Dan Skolink, Cristalle Jones, Corey Sargent and Emily Carkhuff react to the KU loss. Enlarge video

Afflalo struggled in both of the Bruins' Final Four contests last season, scoring a combined 19 points against LSU and Florida. He managed just three points in this season's conference tournament loss to California, and he was ineffective for long stretches of the Bruins' last two victories in this tournament.

He had no such trouble Saturday, hitting a series of clutch baskets in the second half, with a dwindling shot clock and UCLA nursing a lead: A 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 10 minutes to play, or an acrobatic driving layup with 7 1/2 minutes left. Collison chipped in with another 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 4:43 left.

"We had our best defenders on him, but he's a good player," said Kansas coach Bill Self, who has failed to win a regional final in four tries at three different schools. "I don't want to appear frustrated. We missed our free throws, and they didn't defend us on those. They just had some guys step up and make some plays. After they got the lead, they played poised."

UCLA scored six straight points on free throws before Luc Richard Mbah a Moute's celebratory dunk with 24 seconds to play.

The Bruins edged ahead of North Carolina in Final Four appearances - the Tar Heels have 16 going into Sunday's East Regional final against Georgetown - and improved to 5-0 against Kansas in the NCAA tournament.

UCLA also has back-to-back 30-win seasons for the first time since 1972-73.

The San Jose Sharks' hockey rink was filled with Bruins fans, both from the big Bay Area alumni base and those who made the drive north from Westwood. UCLA fed off the support and Howland's usual bombastic, foot-stomping performance on the sideline, playing with remarkable defensive energy.

The clubs traded the lead through a predictably close first half. UCLA made a 14-4 run to take a 35-31 lead when Josh Shipp hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Shipp, who missed last season's UCLA run because of hip surgery, pumped his fist and bumped chests with Afflalo as they headed to the locker room behind the Bruins band.

Update #11: Final, UCLA wins 68-55

San Jose, Calif. - UCLA started playing kee-away after a KU timeout, and Julian Wright fouled Arron Afflalo, sending him to the line for a one-and-one. He hit one of two, and a Mario Chalmers miss gave the ball back to UCLA, and Darren Collison hit two more free throws. A Julian Wright tip-in pulled KU back within eight with :45.1 left.

Afflalo's hot hand, especially starting late in the first half with UCLA's 12-2 run to close out the first stanza, led him to a game-high 24 points. Darren Collison had 14 for the Bruins, including a bunch of late key free throws. Brandon Rush had 18 for KU, with only four of them coming in the second half. Russell Robinson had 11. KU ends the season 33-5 overall, having won both the regular season and tournament titles in the Big 12, reaching the Elite Eight for the second time in four years under Bill Self. The loss snapped a 14-game winning streak for KU, who had not lost a game since falling 69-66 to Texas A&M on Feb. 3.

Update #10: 1:36, second half, UCLA leads 60-51

San Jose, Calif. - Russell Robinson went hard to the basket after the timeout and drew the fourth foul on Alfred Aboya, getting himself to the free throw line. But KU's woes from there continued. He hit just one of two, and KU then applied a full-court press, which forced a turnover right off the bat.

Chalmers let it go right back with Mbah a Moute forcing a turnover. Russell Robinson was then called for two light fouls on Darren Collison, and a foul whistled on Brandon Rush gave KU six team fouls in the second half.

KU forced a turnover under the basket, but Sherron Collins was wiped away by Mbah a Moute, and a foul on Darrell Arthur up top put UCLA in the bonus up by seven with 1:36 left. Collison stepped to the line and easily swished two, putting UCLA up by a daunting nine points with 1:36 left.

Update #9: 3:10, second half, UCLA leads 58-50

San Jose, Calif. - KU turned the ball over out of another timeout, which has become a common theme in the second half, but UCLA handed it right back. That was followed with Darnell Jackson leafing it away in the lane and allowing the Bruins to slow things down with the game under the seven-minute mark.

Ben Howland then called a timeout for UCLA, but the Bruins made it four straight turnovers in the game afterwards. Darrell Arthur answered by corralling a pass inside and scoring for the second time in the game.

Julian Wright was then called for his first foul with 5:55 left, sending Alfred Aboya to the line for UCLA, where the sophomore big man hit both and put the Bruins back up eight.

Russell Robinson came back with a three on a kick-out by Mario Chalmers, cutting UCLA's lead to five with just over that many minutes to go. Darren Collison answered with a prayer of a three, nearly slipping on the floor, with the shot clock expiring and bringing the HP Pavilion to a deafening tone.

Mario Chalmers then missed his first three-point attempt of the game, and Darrell Arthur's second chance fading in the lane missed as well, giving UCLA a chance to melt the clock some, and the Bruins turned it over just before the shot clock ran dry.

Update #8: 7:30, second half, UCLA leads 53-45

San Jose, Calif. - KU turned the ball over out of the timeout, and Michael Roll was fouled in transition going up for a layup. He missed both of his free throws though. KU couldn't respond, as Sherron Collins air-balled a three look. Brandon Rush answered back for KU with a floater in the lane, making it a six-point game.

Arron Afflalo hit a three with the shot clock expiring and his body floating to the left atop the key to get a burst out of the UCLA crowd, but Russell Robinson came right back with a trey of his own. Afflalo hit again in response, this time with two atop the key, giving him 21 points on the night. Josh Shipp followed it with a block of Mario Chalmers, but UCLA couldn't bump the lead from eight in transition. Instead, Darren Collison was called for his second foul after missing a tough layup.

Lorenzo Mata was then called for his fourth foul of the game, sending him back to the bench for the second time in the second half. He got Darnell Jackson while going up down the baseline. Jackson sank both charities, making it a six-point game yet again.

KU got a chance to extend its push after a UCLA turnover on the sideline, but Darrell Arthur missed on the baseline. Afflalo, who was rested for 30 seconds, then spun one in off the glass with the shot clock again getting near zero, keeping UCLA's cushion at eight. Afflalo has 23 points.

Update #7: 11:29, second half, UCLA leads 46-38

San Jose, Calif. - Julian Wright missed his free throws out of the timeout, making KU just 2-of-7 from the stripe in the contest.

Russell Westbrook pushed UCLA's lead back out to nine points moments later by knifing into the lane from the wing, stopping and laying it in easily.

Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur then both missed shots inside off the rim, and the ball was squeezed out under the glass by UCLA. Afflalo gave himself seven second half points inside, putting UCLA up 46-35 with 13:20 to go and forced Bill Self to call his second timeout of the half.

Rush came out of the timeout to hit his second three-pointer of the game, making it an eight-point contest and giving himself 14 of KU's 38 points so far. Chalmers then swiped a UCLA pass under the hoop, but this time Rush's three look missed long.

The Bruins turned it over for the second straight possession, this time with Michael Roll losing the ball off of his lower body on the sideline. Julian Wright returned the favor, though, making an unnecessary pass inside while in mid-air which went off of Darrell Arthur and out of bounds.

UCLA couldn't take advantage, and a ball out of bounds sent the game into another break.

Update #6: 15:05, second half, UCLA leads 42-35

San Jose, Calif. - Lorenzo Mata wound up taking an ugly shot from the left wing on the second half's first possession, with KU's defense milking the shot clock nearly empty. Mata then got his third foul of the game, sending him to the bench less than a minute into the half.

Mario Chalmers then turned the ball over for the third time in the game trying a fancy pass to Brandon Rush on the perimeter. Darren Collison was then forced into an awkward-looking shot of his own, sending the ball back to KU. This time, Chalmers was blocked in the lane by Alfred Aboya, and Arron Afflalo extended UCLA's lead to six in transition with two off the glass. Chalmers came back to follow misses by Rush and Wright for his first field goal of the game.

Chalmers then got a steal, but on a give-and-go in a two-on-one situation with Julian Wright, KU turned it over yet again. Afflalo came back to hit a three, as his hot hand from the first half has carried over, crossing up Rush and stepping back with the shot clock melting, making it 40-33, UCLA.

KU couldn't score after a Bill Self timeout, and Lorenzo Mata scored his first points of the game following up a Josh Shipp missed dunk to put UCLA up by nine. Julian Wright finally answered for KU with two points inside while flopping to the floor.

Wright then picked a ball off the hands of Darren Collison and was fouled going up in transition, leading the game to a full break.

Update #5: Halftime, UCLA leads 35-31

Brandon Rush was called for an offensive foul out of the timeout while trying to slip a pass to the baseline for Darnell Jackson. Afflalo then put UCLA ahead with a pull-up jumper down the left wing, giving him seven points on the night.

Rush then lost the ball and had it swiped by Joash Shipp, but it came right back to KU thanks to a travel call on Mbah a Moute.

Rush missed again on a drive, shorting it off the iron, and Afflalo scored again to put UCLA on top 32-29, forcing Bill Self into a timeout with just under two minutes left in the first half.

Mario Chalmers missed on a drive out of the timeout, and Darnell Jackson's follow wasn't true either. Jackson, though, was fouled near the rim, but missed both free throws, sending the ball back with the Bruins.

Darren Collison missed a three at the one-minute mark, and Brandon Rush swooped in for a one-handed dunk down the right baseline, pulling KU back within one. The Bruins were called for an offensive foul, giving KU a chance to re-claim the lead. Russell Robinson had a layup fall off the rim, though, and UCLA held for the last shot of the half.

Josh Shipp sank a three in the corner at the buzzer, giving him eight points in the half and UCLA a 35-31 lead at the break. Arron Afflalo led UCLA with nine points, and Darren Collison had seven. Brandon Rush leads all scorers with 11, while Darnell Jackson has put together six.

Update #4: 3:23, first half, KU leads 29-28

San Jose, Calif - Lorenzo Mata, just a 37.9 percent free throw shooter on the season, missed two right out of a timeout, but the rebound went out of bounds off of Russell Robinson. Mbah a Moute then missed a three, rebounded by Brandon Rush.

Rush rolled in a two on the baseline on a nifty dish from Julian Wright to put KU back up by three. UCLA then tunred it back over on a long possession, and Rush made it a six-point game with a three atop the key following a Julian Wright missed dunk.

Ben Howland called for a timeout, and his team couldn't score on the possession out of it, with Afflalo and Shipp both missing threes. KU turned it over on the other end, and Josh Shipp then earned his way to the free throw line among the trees underneath the hoop.

Shipp hit both charities, making it a four-point game again, 27-23. He then rebounded a Mario Chalmers miss, but turned it over in transition, with Brandon Rush taking it away and missing a floater in the lane. Darnell Jackson followed it with a two-handed dunk and was fouled by UCLA's Lorenzo Mata in the process. Jackson's free throw missed, but KU still grasped to a six-point lead.

Michael Roll scored his first points of the game on a three atop the key, and it was followed by a Brandon Rush miss from the free throw line. Alfred Aboya then made it a one-point game for the Bruins inside on a pass from Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

Update #3: 7:54, first half, KU leads 22-21

San Jose, Calif. - Afflalo was blocked on a three-point attempt by Rush for the second time out of the timeout, and a shot clock violation led to Darnell Jackson hitting a turnaround jumper on the right side, putting KU up by five. Darren Collison cut it to two points with his first three of the game, followed by a Josh Shipp steal. Mbah a Moute tied it on the baseline moments later. KU snatched the lead right back with Chalmers floating an alley-oop to Darnell Jackson for a two-handed throwdown.

Russell Robinson extended it to a four-point KU advantage on a feed from Julian Wright off of a steal, and then came a pick of an entry pass by Darnell Jackson. Jackson, though, was called for going over the back on the other end, sending the ball back with UCLA.

Josh Shipp then canned his first three of the game for UCLA, followed by a steal in the open court by UCLA freshman Russell Westbrook. He took it in for a two-handed dunk, putting the Bruins on top 21-20 and forcing Bill Self to call a 30-second timeout.

Sasha Kaun took a dish from Mario Chalmers right from the break and fed it in easily off the glass, and KU had a chance to extend the lead with a Julian Wright jumper off of another steal, but it missed off the front iron.

Update #2: 11:59, first half, KU leads 14-11

San Jose, Calif. - Russell Robinson picked the pocket of Josh Shipp right out of the game's first media break, sending the ball back with the Jayhawks. After a tie-up paused the possession and kept the ball with KU, Darrell Arthur missed a shot in the lane, pulled down by UCLA.

UCLA sent it right back with KU, as the shot clock was winding down and solid KU defense forced an errant pass form Afflalo over the head of Mbah a Moute.

Darren Collison broke UCLA's drought with a knifing bank in the lane following a Sherron Collins miss, and it was followed with a Collins turnover and his first foul of the game afterwards.

Josh Shipp missed his first three-point attempt of the game, and Mario Chalmers then three a half-court alley-oop pass to Arthur, who banked it in for his first points of the game.

Update #1: 14:33, first half, KU leads 12-9

San Jose, Calif. - Darren Collison controlled the opening tip for UCLA, swinging the ball right to Arron Afflalo. After getting his first look blocked, he got a tip from Lorenzo Mata and spilled one in from the lane, putting UCLA up 2-0.

KU tried to attack the basket to start, but to no avail, with Sasha Kaun and Brandon Rush each missing close-range looks. Rush's second attempt at finding a crease near the rack drew a foul on lorenzo Mata. Rush sank both, tying it up early.

Rush then partially tipped an Afflalo three from the right wing off of an inbounds pass, but Julian Wright turned it over on the other end, turning into a Collison layup in the open court. Wright made up for it, throwing an alley-oop to Sasha Kaun, who threw it down with his back to the basket with two hands.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute got involved for the Bruins after that, backing Wright down inside and hitting a baseline turnaround, putting UCLA back up by two. It was followed by Darren Collison's first foul of the game, called for a push against Russell Robinson.

Wright tied it up with a baseline jumper for his first bucket of the game. With Brandon Rush slipping on the floor, though, Afflalo hit the game's first three pointer in the corner. Rush came right back for two inside, giving him four points early on.

Wright put KU on top 10-9 with a floater after cutting under the basket for an entry pass, giving him four points early as well in a high-scoring set of opening minutes. UCLA followed it with a turnover, and Robinson followed up a Brandon Rush missed jumper while falling towards the floor, putting KU up by three.

Following a Ben Howland timeout, Sherron Collins and Darrell Arthur checked into the game for KU. Darren Collison was then blocked on a drive to the hoop with the shot clock expiring out of the break, but KU was called for three seconds on the other end.

Pregame

San Jose, Calif. - For the second time in a week, traditional powers meet in a 'survive and advance' setting.

Last weekend, it was Kansas University ousting Kentucky in an NCAA Tournament second round contest in Chicago. And after KU escaped its first Tourney scare Thursday with a 61-58 win over Southern Illinois, the Jayhawks take on two-seed UCLA today in the West Regional final in San Jose's HP Pavilion.

The matchup everyone will be watching will be between KU's 6-foot-6 sophomore wing, Brandon Rush, and UCLA's go-to guy, 6-foot-5 junior Arron Afflalo. Afflalo led UCLA with 17 points in a win over Pittsburge Thursday night, while Rush hit a shot in the lane off the glass in the waning seconds to give KU all the separation it needed from SIU.

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