Sunday, March 12, 2006

Bruins Power Their Way To Pac-10 Tourney Title

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

The UCLA Bruins captured a Pac-10 tournament title for the first time since 1987 with a 71-52 victory over the California Bears.

Sophomore guard Jordan Farmar scored a game-high 19 points, including a nine point barrage on 3 three-points shots in the second-half to help the Bruins turn a close game into a rout.

The Bruins (27-6, 14-4) got balanced scoring from its starters. Four of the five players scored in double-figures with Arron Afflalo, the team's leading scorer, as the only starter not hitting the mark.

With the Cal defense keying on Afflalo the entire game, the sophomore became a playmaker recording a career-high 7 assists. He also scored 9 points in a team-high 35 minutes of play.

Continuing to impress in the low post, 7-footer Ryan Hollins scored 12 points on 5-6 shooting. With Hollins providing scoring inside, opponent defenses no longer can key on UCLA perimeter players.

If Hollins continues his stellar play, the Bruins have an excellent chance of going deeper into the NCAA tourney than most expected.

Senior wingman Cedric Bozeman scored 13 points and handed out 5 assists. He continued his aggressive play of late on the offensive end, driving into the paint for shots or drawing defenders and dishing to teammates for easy baskets.

With Bozeman taking initiative on the offensive end, he now gives the Bruins a third offensive threat which makes the team very difficult to defend against.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute had 10 points on 5-8 shooting and 4 rebounds. Twice during the game when the Bruin offense was sputtering, Mbah a Moute put back offensive rebounds for scores to help spark the team.

Mbah a Moute was also part of a quartet of Bruin defenders, including Alfred Aboya, Lorenzo Mata, and Ryan Hollins, which limited Cal's leading scorer Leon Powe to a sub par 6-15 shooting for 18 points.

In last night's game against Oregon, Powe scored a tournament-high 41 points in route to being voted the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

But in this contest, the Bruin defense wore Powe down by the second-half - holding him scoreless in the final 16 minutes of the game when the Bruins pulled away.

"Our interior defense doubling the ball was really good," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. "To hold Powe to 17 points is an incredible job by our team. He's a load, he's a great player."

The UCLA defense held California to 39.6% shooting from the floor; and the 52 points scored by the Bears marked the third straight tournament game in which the Bruins held their opponents below 60 points.

During the course of the game, one could sense the Bruin's constant defensive pressure and physical-style of play was taking its toll on the Bears who were already playing with limited rest due to a late ending double-overtime win over Oregon and early afternoon start time of the title game.

The Bears (20-10, 12-6) stayed in the game for the first 30 minutes of play and rallied twice from sizeable deficits to threaten the Bruins. However, the UCLA players did not get rattled and never relinquished the lead the entire game.

"This team just continues to battle back," Howland said. "There's nothing that they haven't seen in terms of adversity that's going to bother them."

In the first half, UCLA went on an 18-6 run and built a 16 point lead. Perhaps sensing an easy win, the Bruins lost their intensity on both ends of the court with the Bears roaring back to cut the deficit to just 3 points at the half, 32-29.

UCLA was held scoreless for the final four minutes of the first half, and appeared lackadaisical on offense, settling for six straight missed outside jumpers.

Cal also stayed in the game by pounding the boards, out-rebounding UCLA in the first half 14 to 7, including four offensive rebounds.

At halftime, Coach Ben Howland stressed the need to better execute their offense by getting the ball inside either on post passes or drives to the basket.

With 16 minutes remaining in the game and the Bears trailing by only one point, 36-35, the Bruins started attacking the basket and scored 8 of their next 10 points on either lay-ups or foul shots, culminating with a rim-rattling slam dunk by Ryan Hollins courtesy of an Arron Afflalo assist.

It was another typical UCLA game of attrition - the Bruin's physical style of play is to grind it out on both ends of the court the entire game to eventually wear down an opponent.

On defense, the Bruin's man-to-man pressure defense takes its toll on teams after 40 minutes. UCLA players are schooled well and rarely make mistakes on defense, often forcing opponents to take tough shots.

On offense, the Bruins have become multi-faceted with the development of their inside game. UCLA has always been a threat from the perimeter, but guards are now passing the ball inside with confidence, and post players are catching passes and converting them for scores.

Just as important, the Bruin offense is patient, players willing to pass up a quick shot in order to find a higher percentage shot later on in the shot clock. By playing most the clock, UCLA forces opponents to play a lot of defense which is part of their strategy of wearing down opponents.

UCLA enters NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday as both the Pac-10 regular-season champion and Pac-10 tournament champion. Finishing the season with a seven-game winning streak, the Bruins are poised and ready for the tourney.

"We're a 2 or 3 seed. I think that's pretty certain," Howland said "We won the Pac-10 conference any way you look at it outright in the regular season. We actually played all three of these games where it was pretty clear at the end of the game who was the best team, and it's a credit to these kids."


(photo credit: AP)


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