Sunday, March 19, 2006

Bruins Advance to Sweet 16 With Defense

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

The No.2 seed UCLA Bruins advanced to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 round after pulling out a 62-59 victory over No.10 seed Alabama in the second round of the Oakland (West) Regional.

After winning their last five games by an average of over twenty points, the contest against the Alabama Crimson Tide would come down to the wire.

With 15 seconds remaining in the game and UCLA clinging to a two point lead, everyone at Cox Arena knew Ronald Steele would take the last shot for Alabama.

For UCLA (29-6) there was only one Bruin player, and no other, to be called upon for the defensive assignment against Steele: Arron Afflalo.

Alabama in-bounded the ball to Steele at half-court, and like two young competing bucks in the wild, Steele and Afflalo locked horns.

Steele repeatedly tried to penetrate only to have Afflalo cut him off at the pass each time.

With the clock winding down, Steele drove into Afflalo in order to create space for a pull-up 25 foot jumper, but Afflalo recovered in time to force Steele to arc his shot a little more than normal causing the ball to hit short on the front of the rim.

Cedric Bozeman grabbed the loose rebound and was fouled with 0.8 seconds remaining. The Bruin senior made one of two free throws, missing the second attempt, and then with an Alabama player making one last feeble heave towards the basket time expired.

It didn’t appear at the game's outset, it would be so hard fought as UCLA jumped out quickly to an 8-0 lead.

After Jordan Farmar hit his third consecutive three-pointer of the game, and Ryan Hollins slammed home a lob pass from Farmar, UCLA led 13-7.

Playing man-to-man to start the game, after a time-out Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried switched to a 2-3 zone defense which immediately stifled the Bruin offense.

UCLA was passive against the zone, electing to take outside jumpers rather than attack the zone with dribble penetration. Over the next eight minutes, the Bruins missed seven straight outside jumpers.

The drought ended with a Ryan Hollins offensive rebound and put-back to move UCLA into the lead, 16-15. Moreover, the only two Bruins to score in the first 14 minutes of the game were Farmar and Hollins.

The teams went into halftime with the score tied, 30-30.

In the first half, Alabama shot 61% from the floor as they were successfully getting the ball inside to their big men, Richard Hendrix and Jermareo Davidson.

Hendrix and Davidson combined on 6 of 8 shooting for 14 points, while Steele connected for 12 points including 2 of 3 shooting from three-point distance and 4 of 4 on free throws - all by halftime.

Lately, the second-half of games has been a time when UCLA’s physical play and intensity eventually wore down opponents.

Playing with only a seven-player rotation, it appeared Alabama would certainly tire and fold under the constant UCLA pressure and physicality.

But since deciding to play with a shortened rotation, Gottfried has had one rule for his players, “You are not allowed to get tired.”

In addition, with Alabama’s 2-3 zone so effective against UCLA, the Crimson Tide players did not expend as much energy playing defnese with the zone as they would have playing a man-to-man.

Subsequently, it would be a dog-fight for the rest of the game.

Although UCLA never relinquished their lead, Alabama would continually battle back, tying the game once at 38, but then UCLA caught a break.

Jermareo Davidson, Alabama’s best inside player, was called for his fourth foul with 9:33 remaining and had to sit down. With Davidson on the bench, the Bruins maintained their lead going down the stretch.

"We're a team that needs to avoid foul trouble," Gottfried said. "It hurt our ability to score. That was a big factor."

With 0:35 seconds left in the game and UCLA leading by one, Afflalo took a pass on the far left wing and nailed a three-point shot to halt a Alabama late charge.

The Bruin’s free throw shooting was atrocious which allowed Alabama to stay in the game late. UCLA was only 2 of 8 from the line over the last seven minutes of the game including three crucial misses on the front ends of one-and-one free throw opportunities.

However thanks to Afflalo's late-defensive heroics, the Bruins advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002.

In addition to the phenomenal defensive job on Steele, Afflalo scored 13 points – all in the second half. With the Tide’s defense keying on Afflalo, his backcourt mate, Jordan Farmar, needed to step forward.

Farmar finished with a game-high 18 points including 5 of 10 from three-point distance. His outside shooting helped pace the Bruins in the first-half.

Senior center Ryan Hollins held his ground against Alabama’s big and talented frontline. He shot 5 of 5 from the field for 12 points; in addition, he grabbed 4 rebounds, and blocked 3 shots.

Bozeman scored 5 points, recorded a game-high 7 assists, and was instrumetal in helping UCLA finally break Alabama’s zone.

At halftime, coach Howland switched Farmar off point guard and moved him to the wing with either Darren Collison or Bozeman manning the point. This allowed Farmar to roam more freely to receive the ball for better scoring opportunities.

In addition with Bozeman on the floor, it gave UCLA another available player to help break a stubborn zone press by Alabama. For the game, UCLA only had 10 turnovers.

Freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute had 9 points and a team-high 6 rebounds, and once again, his hustle made the difference in gaining control of loose balls.

For the game, UCLA, for one of the rare times this year, was out-rebounded 27-16 by. In addition, they shot only 5 of 13 from the foul line (38%).

Yet, despite being out-rebounded and missing key free throws, the Bruins still won.

"All the stats went against us," Howland said. "To have everything go against us and still win, it's a testament to the kids."

"We've got to make our free throws and outboard our opponents if we're going to win any more games in this tournament," he said.

After allowing Alabama to shoot 61% from the floor in the first half, UCLA limited Alabama to just 38% in the second.

This was the seventh game in a row the Bruins have held an opponent to below 60 points.

UCLA will next face Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 at Oakland beginning on Thursday. Gonzaga advanced earlier in the tourney by defeating Indiana.


(photo credit: AP)


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