Friday, March 17, 2006

UCLA Overwhelms Belmont In Opening Round

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

Perhaps it was best for UCLA to play through some nerves in the opening round rather than in a tougher game later in the NCAA tournament.

The UCLA Bruins used a 27-7 run midway through the first half in route to a 78-44 blow out of the Belmont Bruins at Cox Arena in San Diego.

For the first eleven minutes of the game the Bruins ‘of Belmont’ looked more like the No.2 seed team than UCLA.

UCLA opened the game attempting too many early outside shots, and most of them out of rhythm with the offense. They missed 10 of their first 15 shots as Belmont broke out to an early 16-10 lead.

When UCLA did get it inside their players either rushed their shots or neglected to shot-fake, as evidenced by two early blocks by Belmont’s big, but slow, Boomer Herndon.

Perhaps it was the glare of the lights or the size of the stage, but in the early going, UCLA did not look like the same team which easily dispatched opponents in the Pac-10 tournament last week.

"We're really young. It's the first or second time for most of us, it's very exciting," sophomore guard Jordan Farmar said. "We were just a little jittery to begin the game."

Yet, it was two young freshmen who helped the team settle down later in the first half. One did it with speed and guile, while the other did it with old-fashion blue-collar hustle.

Freshman point guard Darren Collison helped turn the game around in the first-half when he scored six points and made two steals in a two minute span to convert a four deficit into a six point advantage. It was a lead UCLA would not relinquish the rest of the game.

Collison, a freshman from Etiwanda high school, finished with 10 points, 2 assists, and 3 steals in 22 minutes.

In the first half, forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, a freshman from Cameroon, scored 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting and grabbed 6 rebounds to help pace UCLA to a 35-23 halftime lead.

Mbah a Moute finished with a memorable game scoring a career-high 17 points, dishing 6 assists, and of course, grabbing a team-high 8 rebounds.

Along with Collison, it was Mbah a Moute’s relentless hustle for loose balls and toughness on the backboards which kept UCLA in the game until the offense righted itself.

"We just needed to execute," sophomore guard Afflalo said. "We were getting good shots. We were just missing them. What changed was on the defensive end."

Indeed, it was the UCLA defense which helped prevent Belmont from getting too far ahead in the first half while the offense was sputtering.

UCLA held Belmont to just 35.7% shooting from the floor in the first-half, but it was in the second-half when the defense completely snarled the Belmont offense.

Belmont was held to a single field goal for the first seven minutes in the second half, as UCLA extended its lead over Belmont to an insurmountable twenty points.

“We committed too many turnovers early but we settled down,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said.

Howland was pleased with his team’s defense especially in the second-half, holding Belmont to just 22.6% shooting from the field in the second half and an anemic 29% field goal shooting for the game. Belmont entered the game shooting 50% from the field - 4th best in the nation.

“Fortunately in the second half,” Howland said, “we eventually wore them down with our defensive intensity.”

No Belmont Bruin scored in double figures. Their leading scorer, guard Justin Hare, was held to only 8 points by UCLA’s elite-defender Arron Afflalo.

“This is a defensive team.” Afflalo said. “It’s one way I can help this team.”

For the game, Afflalo shot 3 of 6 from the field for 7 points but grabbed 7 rebounds.

Jordan Farmar played a sub par game especially at the start when he committed two turnovers which helped spark Belmont to their early lead.

The sophomore finished with 8 points and 5 assists, and was 0 of 4 from beyond the three-point arc. The Bruins will need a better effort from their point-guard leader if they expect to advance further in the tournament.

Senior Cedric Bozeman was once again a steadying force on the floor, scoring 9 points and grabbing 6 rebounds. He hit a key 3-pointer at the end of the first half to help UCLA extend its lead in the game.

Center Ryan Hollins had a solid game in the middle. He was an intimidating force inside altering a number of shots, as well as doing a stellar defensive job on Belmont's big man Boomer Herndon. Hollins also scored 10 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in the contest.

Surprisingly, Belmont's game plan was different from what some expected of the team.

Belmont shot 38% from three-point distance this season but were held to 21% (4-19), usually they would attempt 24 to 25 in game. Belmont appeared resolute to establish an inside game with their centers, mainly Boomer Herndon, but they were unable to finish their shots. Herndon was 3 of 13 from field for just 6 points.

In addition, most figured Belmont would employ a defensive zone throughout most of the game, instead it played primarily man-to-man defense with some zone defense mixed in. Interestingly, the Belmont defense was effective most times against UCLA. UCLA shot only 1 of 9 in the first half from beyond the arc when the game was still in question.

UCLA completely dominated Belmont on the boards, 45-27. The team shot 53.6% from the field; in addition, the UCLA offense accounted for 20 assists in the game.

With the first round victory, UCLA will face Alabama on Saturday. Alabama defeated Marquette 90-85 in an earlier game.


(Photo credit: AP)


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