Friday, March 03, 2006

Afflalo Leads UCLA To Pac-10 Title

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

Sophomore Arron Afflalo scored 21 points in the second half and overtime to help UCLA clinch a share of the Pac-10 conference title for the first time since 1997 with a 67-58 victory over California in Berkeley.

Afflalo finished with a team-high 25 points on 8-16 shooting from the field, 5-9 on three-pointers, and a team-high 7 rebounds in the game.

The Bruins started off slowly again falling behind the Bears 31-20 at halftime, and needed a big second half rally to get the game into overtime. UCLA then outscored Cal in the extra period, 12-3, for the victory.

UCLA (23-6, 12-4) is still one game ahead of Washington in the Pac-10 conference race. A UCLA win against Stanford or a Washington loss against Arizona on Saturday would give the Bruins the outright conference title.

"Right now we're co-Pac-10 champs," Afflalo said. "We're definitely not satisfied with that. We'll enjoy this bus ride and enjoy tonight, but after that, it's business as usual. ... Being co-champs was not one of our goals. It was being Pac-10 champs."

However, a conference title was far from the minds of the Bruins after the first 20 minutes of the first half.

For the third game in row, the Bruins played an uninspired first half, and Cal’s Leon Powe made the Bruins pay for it.

Powe scored 15 points in the first half, and single-handedly got UCLA’s big men in foul trouble. After halfway through the first half, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alfred Aboya, and Ryan Hollins each had 2 fouls. Powe was 7-8 from the foul line by the half.

Although Powe was magnificent in the first half, it was actually the Bruin’s inability to stop the Bear's guard penetration. Cal’s Ayinde Ubaka and Richard Midgley, and Nikola Knezevic consistently got into the paint for scores or dishes to post players.

On the offensive end, the Bruins settled for a slow tempo and were caught in an ineffective half-court game. Cal’s defense was effective as well causing four shot clock violations in just he first half.

With the score 20-20, the Bears went on an 11-0 run in the final six minutes of the half go into halftime with the 31-20 lead. Cal shot 56% from the floor in the first half while UCLA shot only 40%.

The Bruins found themselves in a familiar situation – behind at the half; and for the third game in a row they came out of the locker rooms a different and more determined team.

"Every half we come out nonchalant or lackadaisical or whatever you want to call it," Afflalo said. "Where's your pride? Where's your passion? We weren't executing, we were stagnant. That's not our type of game. We got into what we do best in the second half. It's the same thing we did the past two games."

UCLA started the second half with a 10-2 run in the first four minutes to cut the deficit to just three points. Afflalo scored eight points – hitting two momentum changing three-pointers - to lead the comeback. The Bruins were determined to run and up the tempo of the game.

Freshman Darren Collison made two free throws with eleven minutes remaining to give the Bruins their first lead since the opening minutes of the game.

Collison played another effective game for the Bruins. With Jordan Farmar not shooting well from the field (2-10), Collison gave the Bruins a lift with 11 points in 18 minutes of play. In addition, Collison also played good defense in the second half badgering the Cal guards full court.

In the second half, the entire Bruin defense improved in intensity and energy.

After scoring 15 points in the first half, Powe was 2-8 in the second half for just 5 points. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Alfred Aboya took turns guarding Powe and perhaps wore down the Pac-10 player of the year candidate down the stretch.

"The first half was a little more wide open," Powe said. "I could get to the paint. But the second half, they closed that off real quick. When I put it on the floor, they came."

In addition, the Bruin guards did a better job the second half stopping Cal’s dribble penetration, and preventing or tipping passes into the post. In the opening minutes of the second half, the Bruins set the tone with two quick steals and forcing Cal into tough shots from the perimeter with the shot clock winding down on two straight possessions.

But it was Afflalo who shot the Bruins back into the game. "It's not about scoring, it's not about numbers," Farmar said. "As long as we win, I'm happy. Arron came up big and shot the ball great the second half. I just tried to find him and make plays."

UCLA had a good chance of winning the game in regulation. With 30 seconds left in the game and the Bruins up by three, Cal’s Theo Robertson hit a three-point shot from the left wing to tie the game and send it into overtime.

To open the extra period, Ubaka hit a 3-point shot which turned out to be the only points California would score in overtime, as the Bruins went on a 12-0 run for the victory.

As much as Afflalo deserves the credit for the win, it was a team victory with much credit going to the Bruin frontline of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alfred Aboya, Ryan Wright, and Ryan Hollins. The Bruin big men matched the physical play of Cal’s frontline, and at minimum, the confrontation was a draw.

UCLA had the edge on the boards 31-28. After allowing Cal to shoot 56% in the first half, the Bruins limited the Bears to only 36% in the second half.

Rumor has it that Cal’s Omar Wilkes played 15 minutes in the UCLA-Cal game Thursday. Wilkes – a UCLA student section favorite, had scored 12 points in the first meeting at Pauley, but he took only one shot scoring zero points in this game, and was barely noticed except for a missed flagrant foul he committed on Afflalo during a breakaway lay-up in the first half.

It’s easy to overlook his quiet contributions to the team, but senior Cedric Bozeman locked down Wilkes defensively and threw away the key. Bozeman also added 7 points on 2-2 shooting.

"This was a great gut-check win for our team, our program," coach Ben Howland said. "To go through all that and have to go to overtime and to gut it out, it's a testament to these kids' character."


(photo credit: AP)


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