Friday, January 13, 2006

Bruins Have Just Enough To Beat Cougars, 63-61

Box Score

The UCLA Bruins (14-2, 4-1) withstood a late Washington State rally to win 63-61 in front of 9,550 at Pauley Pavilion.

Ironically, after winning their last game with three seconds remaining on a left-handed layup by Jordan Farmar, the Bruins won this game on a missed layup by WSU’s Kyle Weaver with three seconds left in the game.

With the Bruins leading 63-61, WSU’s Robbie Cowgill rebounded a missed Arron Afflalo free throw and found guard Kyle Weaver who drove hard to the basket for a wide open layup but the shot came up short, Darren Collison rebounded the ball as time expired.

Dick Bennett’s Cougars entered the game with a reputation for a patient, precise offense, but it was the Bruins who were executing their half court offense magnificently in the first half - UCLA shot 54% in the half.

UCLA's execution in the first half was a thing of beauty," Bennett said. "Their screens, their cuts, their timing was perfect.

The Bruins lead by as much as 17 points in the second half after posting a 31-17 at halftime, but the Cougars rallied behind the hot-shooting of 5’10 sophomore Josh Akognon.

Akogon who was recently voted Pac-10 player of the week for a 27-point performance in leading his team to a victory over Washington last week – almost repeated the same feat against the Bruins.

After being held scoreless in the first half, Akogon scored 25 points on 6-8 shooting from 3PT in the second half alone, and brought the Cougars back to within one point with just 13 seconds left in the game. But then Arron Afflalo was fouled on the next play and hit one of two free throws which was followed by the game-ending missed layup by Weaver.

UCLA had held WSU to 32% FG% shooting in the first half, but then the Cougars shot 58% in the second half behind Akogon.

“I thought we played the best defense we’ve played all year during the first 30 minutes of this game”, UCLA coach Ben Howland said ”But then Akogon started hitting and we had problems picking him up in transition and left him wide-open for shots”.

Arron Afflalo lead the Bruins with 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists - yet after the game he was his own toughest critic. “I missed some open shots at the end of the game”, Afflalo grumbled afterwards “I need to work and get better, our team can get better”

Perhaps Afflalo may have been somewhat fatigued at the end of the game since he played a team high 38 minutes after suffering a hip pointer and bruises in a hard fall against Arizona State just last weekend.

I played Arron too many minutes," Howland said. "He got really tired down the stretch and it showed."

Point guard Jordan Farmar, still playing on a sore right ankle, scored 12 points and handed out 7 assists in a steady 28 minutes performance.

Freshman Michael Roll got the starting assignment at small forward, replacing the injured Josh Shipp, and he responded. Roll scored 10 points on 4-8 shooting, although interestingly, it was his solid defense which earned him the start with coach Howland

He has really improved his defense, Howland said of Roll. “He works really hard on his defense at practices and it’s so great for a coach to see a player develop and improve like he has”.

Roll played a career high 32 minutes in this game and may see these many minutes for the remainder of the season. Although he shot the ball well, Roll will need to improve his rebounding effort since he recorded no rebounds in the game.

Freshman forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute grabbed a team-high 9 rebounds and blocked two shots. He has given this team an athletic defensive presence inside they did not have last year. Mbah a Moute also scored 9 points on 3-4 shooting.

Darren Collison had 7 points and 4 rebounds including the rebound to end the game. In the first half, Collison tried to do too much offensively - perhaps to help the team compensate for the loss of Josh Shipp.

Collison made two ill-advised drives into the paint which resulted in either a blocked shot or missed off-balance shot, however, he did settle down in the second half to make a strong contribution at the end. Collison made a huge layup after breaking the Cougar full court press to extend the Bruin lead to three points with 27 seconds left in the game.

The Bruins may have suffered another devastating injury to a player. With three minutes left in the game, Lorenzo Mata and Jordan Farmar’s knees collided with both players falling to the ground and Mata getting the worst of it. Mata laid on the court grasping his knee in agony but then he finally got up and limped back to the bench on his own.

Howland said the team’s physician examined Mata’s knee and did not find any serious structural damage in his exam, however, Mata will have an MRI done later on Thursday evening.

In recent games, Mata had been establishing himself on both ends of the court. Against WSU although he only scored 3 points and had 4 rebounds, his defensive presence and awareness was key to the Bruins interior defense. Mata also had 2 blocked shots.

It won’t be known until tomorrow, or even perhaps game-time on Saturday, the extent of the injury Mata suffered in the game. If he’s unable to play, then freshman Ryan Wright will need to step up and play more minutes, we may even see Alfred Aboya sliding over to the 5 spot as well.

Senior Michael Fey is still doubtful for the Washington’s game, however, the other senior seven-footer, Ryan Hollins may play in the game on Saturday against the Huskies.

Any healthy player would be greatly welcomed by this injury-plagued Bruin team. The Bruins take on the No.13 Washington Huskies on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion. The Huskies defeated the Trojans, 81-72 at the Sports Arena.


(photo credit: AP)


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