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FINAL DESTINATION UCLA DEFEATS LSU, PLAYS FOR CHAMPIONSHIP VS. FLORIDA UCLA 59, LSU 45.

Byline: Brian Dohn Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS - UCLA, the defensive mavens ready to set basketball back decades with its ugly but winning style, suddenly found an offense worth of Hollywood.

And if the Bruins mix their usual superb defense with another offensive moment like in their final game of the season, perhaps a 12th national championship banner will hang from Pauley Pavilion's rafters next season.

Thanks to another smothering defensive effort and surprising offensive efficiency, No. 2 UCLA pummeled No. 4 seed LSU 59-45 Saturday in the NCAA Tournament national semifinals at the RCA Dome, which was half-empty by game's end, to advance to the title game.

UCLA, which has won 12 straight, can claim its 12th national title, by defeating Florida in Monday's championship game. The Bruins (32-6) tied a school record for wins in a season and are 11-1 in title games, losing only in 1980 to Louisville. Tipoff is 6:15 p.m.

The third-seeded Gators put an end to No. 11 seed George Mason's nation- captivating run with a 73-58 win in the first semifinal.

The Bruins' last national title came in 1995, and another would be only their second since legendary coach John Wooden retired after the 1975 championship.

``We're here, and we feel like we're supposed to be here,'' Afflalo said. ``We're here to make our own history and add on to (the past). This program won't be fully restored until we're national champions.''

Freshman power forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute powered UCLA's offense and defense. He matched a career-high with 17 points, and helped the Bruins control the boards and also was strong defending LSU's Glen ``Big Baby'' Davis.

Davis was frustrated into 5 of 17 shooting from the field, including several missed layins while under pressure. He scored 14 points and had seven rebounds. And when Davis, or any other Tiger, got the ball in close scoring range, they were often fouled.

``That's the best defense we played all year,'' UCLA coach Ben Howland said.

LSU shot 32 percent from the field, missing all six of its 3-point attempts, forcing shots at times and missing open looks at other times, and made 13 of 28 foul shots. The Tigers also committed 15 turnovers, and were out-rebounded 42-33.

``Ball pressure was the key and we wanted them to feel like we put some on them,'' said UCLA's Jordan Farmar, who scored 12 points. ``We got some steals and some dunks in transition. It was being aggressive on both ends of the floor. It was my job as a point guard (to push the ball), and it was just take what the defense gives you.

``They crash a lot of people, and a big part of their offense is to get second shots. We did a great job of getting rebound, boxing out. Once you see four guys below the free throw line (rebounding), it's easy. You just run the other way.''

The ugly, defensive matchup nearly everyone expected materialized only halfway. LSU was holding teams to 33.9 percent shooting from the field, but the Bruins carved them up with nifty interior passing and sharpshooting from the perimeter.

Even LSU's supposed advantage on the boards was negated as UCLA's Mbah a Moute, Lorenzo Mata and company seemed to get to nearly every loose ball, or tap it to keep it alive before the Bruins could gain possession.

Shedding the label of the tough-nosed, grind-it-out Bruisin's for at least a game, UCLA scored in transition and had a flurry of dunks.

In fact, the Bruins, who led 39-24 at the half, opened the final 20 minutes with a pair of Mbah a Moute dunks off sharp cuts to the basket and a perfectly executed backdoor ally-oop from Jordan Farmar to a soaring Ryan Hollins as UCLA's lead stretched to 45-25.

``UCLA can still dunk the basketball,'' Bruins wing Cedric Bozeman said.

Twenty seconds later Farmar typified UCLA's shooting performance when, with the 35-second shot clock winding down, he calmly sank a 25-footer, holding his right wrist flicked even when turning to jog back on defense, to put the Bruins ahead 50-27 with 15:33 to play.

``They would make big shots after we would play great defense for 34 seconds,'' LSU guard Ben Voogd said. ``That's just hard for us to come back from something like that, and when it happens over and over again, it's to pick yourself up.''

It didn't take long for UCLA's style to take over as the Bruins harassed LSU into missing 9 of its first 12 shots. After that, even when the Tigers had open shots, they missed, and the woes followed them to the free-throw line.

But unlike other NCAA games in which UCLA failed to take control of the game early because of poor offense, the Bruins started out on a torrid pace and finished the first half shooting 58.3 percent from the field.

UCLA's quick start was spearheaded by 3-pointers from Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo a the Bruins took a 12-4 lead. The Bruins defense forced 11 first-half turnovers, and led to fastbreak opportunities not seen in a while.

LSU, which made 9 of 30 shots in the first half, trailed 20-8 after Cedric Bozeman gathered a loose ball under the basket and scored. The closest The Tiger got the rest of the way was 25-16, which is when the Bruins scored six straight, including two baskets by Darren Collison, to take a 31-16 lead.

There was only one juncture in the first half when LSU scored back-to- back baskets, and that came in the final minutes when Tasmin Mitchell scored two straight buckets to pull LSU within 35-23.

``It wasn't easy, but we understand that if we play possession by possession, that's what the score is going to be,'' Afflalo said.

Brian Dohn, (818) 713-3607

brian.dohn(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) UCLA's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute scores two of his 17 points during the first half against LSU on Saturday.

(2) UCLA's Ryan Hollins, right, comes down after scoring in over LSU's Garrett Temple.

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

(3) UCLA's Cedric Bozeman, left, fends off several LSU players while chasing down a loose ball during Saturday's game.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Box:

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 2, 2006
Words:1050
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