Sunday, March 26, 2006

Hollins At Center Of Bruins Victory

By Gregg Patton
The Press-Enterprise

And now for the Most Outstanding Player of the Oakland Regional ...

Would you believe UCLA's Ryan Hollins?

Once firmly planted on Coach Ben Howland's bench, and widely regarded as the 7-foot project that never quite worked out, the senior center is suddenly as much a part of the Bruins' run to the Final Four as any of UCLA's better known and widely admired underclass perimeter players.

The rail-thin Hollins scored 14 points, had a game-high nine rebounds, blocked a shot, had a steal and made himself a huge presence in the lane for the Bruins in their 50-45 regional final win over No. 1 seed Memphis on Saturday.

Only the team's star guards, Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar, played more minutes in Howland's shuffling, nine-player rotation.

"I always knew Ryan was a great basketball player," Farmar said. "It was just a matter of him believing in himself, and us believing in him, and that's all come together."

Hollins and fellow 7-foot senior Michael Fey were expected to be a twin-towers force when former coach Steve Lavin recruited them. But neither one developed a consistent or physical game under the basket. Howland turned the center spot into a revolving door of candidates.

By early this year, Hollins was used sparingly. Hollins, Fey, sophomore Lorenzo Mata and freshmen Ryan Wright and Alfred Aboya all took turns at the job. But injuries to Aboya and Mata, in particular, reopened the door for Hollins, who finally took advantage of the opportunity.

"I never gave up on myself," said Hollins, who said his emergence is just a "team chemistry thing. It was my teammates having faith in me."

It was more than that. His recent aggressive play has been like day and night, compared to the earlier version.

"Ryan is a special guy," senior Cedric Bozeman said. "All he cares about is the team. He's done everything the coaches have asked. There were times when he was hitting the bumps in the road, but he never gave in."

The only dark cloud over Hollins on Saturday came at the free-throw line, where he made only 1 of 7 in the first half, and finished 2 of 11.

Oddly, he was 12 of 14 in the first three NCAA Tournament games.

Perplexed and embarrassed by his misses, Hollins said, "They just weren't going in." Afraid he was costing his team the game, he said, "I just told myself, 'We're not losing this game.' "

Hollins probably wouldn't have made anyone's list of MVP candidates a couple of months ago, but when asked if he surprised even himself with the award, he shook his head.

"I would have 100 percent believed it," he said.

(reprinted with permission)


(photo credit:Mark Zaleski/The Press-Enterprise)


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