Sunday, March 05, 2006

UCLA Saves Best Game For Last, Pac-10 Champions

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

In what perhaps was the best 40 minutes played by a UCLA team this year, they sent notice to the rest of the nation: The Bruins are ready for the tournament!

UCLA (24-6, 14-4) dominated their last Pac-10 regular season conference game, defeating Stanford 75-54 at Maples Pavilion. With the win, the Bruins are the outright Pac-10 conference champions for the first time since 1997.

"I'm so happy for our guys," said Howland, "and I'm most glad we're Pac-10 champions. We decided it ourselves. We don't have to wait for anybody and get in backdoor. Any time you win a championship it's special."

So many things went right for the Bruins, and at least for this contest, they played their most complete game of the season.

Four Bruins scored in double figures, and fittingly the Bruins shot 50% in each half.

Senior Ryan Hollins played his finest game of his UCLA career. He scored 13 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and along with freshman Alfred Aboya, held Stanford’s All Pac-10 conference player Matt Haryasz to just 3-10 shooting and 8 points.

With Hollins fighting for good low post positioning all game, the Bruins passed the ball inside to him and he converted, hitting 5-7 from the floor including 3-4 from the foul line.

Most importantly, the guards did not force the ball into Hollins, but instead were patient and got him the ball inside within the flow of the offense.

With opponent defenses over-playing and pressuring the UCLA guards in games, against Stanford the Bruin big men, especially freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, exploited back cuts to the hoop, and the UCLA guards kept finding them for easy baskets.

Mbah a Moute finished with 13 points on 6-9 shooting, all on lay-ups, and grabbed a team-high 9 rebounds including 5 offensive rebounds.

He made one of the best plays of the year with just 2 seconds left in the first half; he grabbed an offensive rebound with one hand and softly flipped it off the glass to beat the buzzer.

With the last second basket the Bruins went into halftime with a commanding 38-24 lead. Incredibly, it marked the first time in six games since the Bruins actually had a lead going into halftime.

The Bruins achieved the feat by dramatically cutting down on their turnovers. In the game, the Bruins committed just 7 turnovers, and two of them were 24 second violations at the end of the game.

Most impressively, UCLA guards had only one turnover the entire game.

The Bruins had 15 assists playing unselfishly and delivering the ball to the right man at the right time in most instances.

Sophomore guard Jordan Farmar had 7 assists and scored 13 points on 6-14 shooting. Farmar controlled the tempo of the game in his 28 minutes of play. He got to the basket for lay-ups numerous times by either splitting the high screen up on top, or rubbing off a high-post pick.

Continuing his good play in the late season is freshman guard Darren Collison. He scored 6 points and played under control throughout the game in guiding the offense. His defense was stellar again as he used his speed to hound opponents or deflect passes.

Cameroon freshman Alfred Aboya scored only 1 point and grabbed 4 rebounds, but his contributions to the game do not show up on any stat sheet. His physical and aggressive presence inside the paint changes and disrupts opposing team offenses.

Moreover, UCLA’s frontline held Stanford’s Haryasz, Peter Prowitt, Taj Fingers, and Lawrence Hill – to a combined 6-20 shooting.

"I can't remember a team that's come in here and beat us as handily as that team did," Cardinal coach Trent Johnson said. "This was by far the best team we faced this year.”

Sophomore Arron Afflalo efficiently led all Bruin scorers with 16 points on just 5-7 shooting. Afflalo was 3-5 from the three-point line – including converting on a four-point play when he was fouled making a shot from behind the arc.

Afflalo performed a lock-down defensive job on Stanford senior Chris Hernandez.

Hernandez, the Cardinal’s second leading scorer, only attempted 5 field goal attempts and finished with just 9 points. Afflalo denied Hernandez from getting the ball, and his teammates helped pressure him whenever he had the ball. Hernandez did not score his first field goal until the opening minutes of the second half.

Coming off the bench to spark the Bruin team was freshman Michael Roll. He was more assertive with his shot than in previous games. Roll was 3-4 on three-pointers finishing with 9 points.

UCLA will face a lot of zone defenses in the tournament, and their ability to hit from the perimeter will be key - and the team will need Roll to shoot as he did today in upcoming games.

As a team the Bruins shot 8-17 from beyond the three-point arc for a sizzling 47%. They also out-rebounded Stanford 27-22 in the game.

Stanford shot 43.9% from the floor. Senior Dan Grunfeld, playing his last game as a collegiate, had 12 points; and freshman Anthony Goode had 14 points but it wasn’t nearly enough for the Cardinal.

UCLA sweeps Stanford for the first time since 1995, and now head into the Pac-10 tournament next week as the No.1 seed.

The Bruins will play the winner of No.8 seed Oregon St/No.9 seed Arizona St. game on Thursday March 9.



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