Saturday, April 01, 2006

UCLA Post-Game Press Conference Notes

Indianapolis, IN
UCLA Bruins Basketball Team
Press Conference Transcript
April 1, 2006

THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, coach. We'll ask that you make an opening statement.

COACH Ben Howland: Well, we're really excited to still be playing. We beat a very good team tonight, an outstanding team. I thought our intensity defensively for the entire 40 minutes was really, really incredible. That's the best defense we've played all year. We needed that to be able to beat a team as talented and as good as LSU.

I thought that all of our players -- really when we got in foul trouble there in the first half, I think these two each had two fouls, Ced had two fouls, we had Hollins with two fouls. I was told that our starters played 53 minutes in the first half, and the players coming off the bench played 47.

What's really been helpful for our team is the adversity we experienced early in the year really opened up a lot of opportunities for all the players on the team to step up. I have total confidence in all the kids that we're playing. It really makes a huge difference.

Again, I thought to beat a team like LSU as soundly as we did. Again, we had things going right for us, too. We weren't guarding them at the foul line. They were only 13 for 28. Things went well for us today. We're excited about it.

THE MODERATOR: Questions first for the student-athletes, please.

Q. Were you guys aware of Big Baby's comments yesterday that the last time he checked, Walton and Jabbar still weren't playing for UCLA, how that might have been taken in the locker room.

Arron Afflalo: Yeah, we did hear those comments. But, you know, that's just his personality. I'm pretty sure he didn't mean anything malicious by it. He probably was just making some comments to maybe fire up his team. We weren't too worried about his comments. We knew what we had to do to defend him and come out and win this game.

Q. Luc, we know you've been getting better this season, as the season has gone on. Do you also feel you are improving in the tournament? How much better can you be in 48 hours?

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: I don't know how much better I can be in 48 hours. All I know is every time I step on the court, I give my best trying to play as hard as I can, helping my team, helping me become a better player.

For me, I just keep gaining experience. I'm trying to become the best player I can become.

Q. Luc Richard, can you describe to us what it feels like leaning up against Big Baby, a guy who outweighs you by a hundred, what your approach was defending him?

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: My back hurts right now, you can tell (smiling). He's big. I mean, he's going to be in the NBA. He's a great player. I mean, he does great things for a guy of his size. To move the way he moves, he's a great player.

It takes effort, effort and toughness. I think my teammate did a great job tonight helping me down the post, whether it was just rotating for a steal or pressuring the ball so he wouldn't get catches and stuff. I'm just happy with the way my teammates and team played today.

Q. It was the best defensive effort you had all year, Ben said. How can you tell when you're playing a game, the way you're playing defense is having an effect on your opponent? How did you see it tonight against LSU?

Jordan Farmar: We see it pretty much every night. That's just the way we come out and play defense. They don't do the things they normally do. They're looking at each other, pointing fingers, sometimes eyes get real big, like a deer in the headlights, like they don't know what hit 'em. That's just from playing hard and playing together. It's not any special recipe. It's just really, you know, sucking up, defending, playing hard on that end of the ball.

Q. Tell me your impression of Luc's performance tonight, being cool under pressure, his offensive performance, especially for a guy who has not been playing this game all that long.

Jordan Farmar: Luc is doing a great job. I mean, when everybody was coming together in the beginning of the year, they asked me who should they look for, who is going to contribute. The first one that I noticed was Luc. I mean, I can just see all the little things that he does.

You know, I told them in the beginning of the year how good he was going to be, that he doesn't even know that. That's the scary part. He has no clue. He's just out there playing as hard as he possibly can and trying to get better. You know, any time you focus on trying your best and not worrying about, you know, the result or thinking about failure or anything like that, good things happen. And that's what he does every night. The more he continues to do that, the more and more you guys will be impressed.

Q. At one point you hit a three-pointer early in the second half, the shot clock expired, you were pounding on your chest. Were you pounding on the letters specifically or what was going on in your mind at that moment?

Jordan Farmar: Things were going right for us. A lot of momentum was on our side. They played a good possession of defense. I came off a curl and was fortunate enough to knock down the shot. I noticed they called timeout. Everyone was kind of quiet. I was excited. I play with a lot of emotion. That's what has got us through. We play with a lot of emotion, really put our heart and soul out there.

There was nothing specific. I was just hyped up a little bit.

THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. We'll bring Coach Howland back up. Congratulations. Questions for coach.

Q. That was PAC-10 champion versus SEC champion. You have another SEC team coming up. Can the difference between the conferences possibly be that great?

COACH Ben Howland: Absolutely not. We played terrific tonight. Again, our best defense of the year. Florida is a very, very good team, as is LSU. I mean, tonight, as I was saying, it's like our night. We didn't put the lid on the free-throw shot. They don't miss 13 of 28 normally. They had some open shots. Kind of just continued to, you know, work against them. Once you miss one, makes it a little tougher.

Yeah, our kids played really hard and played terrific tonight. I think the depth issue, what they've gone through in terms of really they're only playing seven guys a lot of minutes. You know, the wear and tear of that, you know, it takes its toll. They're really good. I mean, you're talking about -- I mean, I still feel the same way about Big Baby and Tyrus Thomas, Darrel Mitchell, Tasmin Mitchell. These guys are terrific players, terrific kids.

The real tough part for me is that - and I thought about this - is that we beat LSU. They have a great team, a very well-coached team. I really feel for all those people. We do as a community at UCLA, as we do in Southern California, the state of California, for all the Katrina victims. I've known a lot of people from our area that have gone and tried to help. You can never know what they've gone through as a community, as a state. These kids are great kids from LSU, unbelievable kids. They really embody the spirit of college athletics.

As happy as I am about winning, if we were to lose, I would want to lose to no other team than LSU, especially with everything the state of Louisiana has gone through this year.

You know, I have a special -- it's special.

Q. For those of us who haven't tracked Luc all this season, could you tell us was this one of his best games and where has he improved this season and this tournament?

COACH Ben Howland: Let's see. He had 17 and 9. Those are pretty good numbers. He is a very, very good player. He was a guy that you have to credit, first of all, Seth Greenberg at Virginia Tech and Dave Odom and their staffs at South Carolina. Those were the two other teams that were on him hard besides UCLA. We had to battle. He has a great high school coach. If you've read any of the stuff, Kevin Sutton is his name, whose background is originally from DC. Stu Vedder, a great coach.

I went and saw this kid at Nike camp. I was really impressed. He played hard. My assistant Ernie Zeigler is one that really uncovered him. He was a guy who was under the radar. He'd only been there one year, down at Montverde Academy down in Florida. I really like him, how hard he plays, how tough he is. I go down to watch him, no air-conditioning, we're in July, about 10 coaches there. There's like six kids. I'm not kidding you, okay, you guys have been to Florida, some of you, in the middle of July in a non-air conditioned room. It is brutal. It was 110 degrees, 115 degrees minimum with a humidity level of maybe a hundred percent.

Coach Sutton put this kid through a two-hour -- I was uncomfortable standing there, I'm wanting water after water out of the machine. This kid is absolutely playing like you can't believe, fundamentals. Just all sorts of different fundamentals. Stu Vedder system.

We had two former players that played for that same program, Cameron Dollar out of that program, Rico Hines, who both played at UCLA.

Kevin Sutton coached them. The kid's terrific. He's a prince of his tribe. His dad's a major figure in that country. He's head of the labor department for the country of Cameroon. They're from Yaounde, him and Alfred. Alfred originally committed to Georgetown. These kids are terrific kids, all of them. All of our players are just unbelievable kids.

Q. Could you talk specifically about the defense you guys had on Glen Davis tonight. He was 5 for 17 from the field.

COACH Ben Howland: He's a terrific player. We watched a lot of tape on him. Most of the teams in the SEC when they doubled him came with a small, in other words, a guard as opposed to big to big. It never even affected him. Basically you see the same thing in the NBA. When you double someone in the post, someone's got to be open. We've done it all year against really, really only the best players. Leon Powe, we did it against a kid Fazekas at Reno, we did it against Sims at Michigan. We did it against -- I'm trying to think of other teams. Leon Powe is an absolute unbelievable player. We did it against Haryasz from Stanford. I'm naming all NBA guys for you.

He's going to see a lot more of that next year at the college level and then eventually when he goes on to the NBA. He's a great player and a future sure-fire NBA guy.

Q. You told us all about how you followed UCLA growing up. UCLA is playing for the national championship, the most successful program playing for another title. Is there something that feels right about that? Can you describe how you feel about that happening?

COACH Ben Howland: You know, I'm getting ready to -- the hour is going to change here. In 15 minutes, it's going to become 1 a.m. My whole focus right now is to do what I'm required to do, get back to the hotel, start working to prepare for the University of Florida, who has a great team. Billy has done a fantastic job. We have the opportunity to play, each of us, Florida and UCLA, the last game of the year in college basketball. Yes, that's special.

But we want to do our very best to get this turnaround time. I have to be back here at noon, and it goes to 1 a.m. here. If you see me dragging in here tomorrow, I apologize ahead of time.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, coach.

COACH Ben Howland: Thank you.

(ASAP Sports)



UCLA 59 - LSU 45


UCLA vs. LSU: Game Day Stories

Stories from outside the L.A. Writer's Beat Beltway

Underdog Image OK By UCLA: With an unprecedented 11 national championships, UCLA has the greatest tradition in college basketball.Nobody is better. But at the Final Four, the Bruins are almost an afterthought. They may rank first in national titles, but UCLA ranks fourth at this Final Four in national interest. The Tampa Tribune

Tradition guides Bruins toward for 12th national title: They are the Yankees in gym shorts. They are the Montreal Canadiens, Green Bay Packers and Boston Celtics.They are old money. An ancient monarchy. The anti-George Mason.You want college basketball tradition in spades, never mind Duke?UCLA has more national championships than the entire Atlantic Coast Conference. Eleven. Maybe 12 by midnight Monday. Gannett News Service

LSU’s Davis unfazed by UCLA’s tradition: The presence of UCLA at the Final Four does not carry the mystique it did 30 years ago. At least not to those who weren’t even born then, such as the players on the three other teams in this Final Four. "Last time I checked, Bill Walton wasn’t playing. Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) wasn’t playing. Reggie Miller wasn’t playing," said Glen "Big Baby" Davis of Louisiana State, which plays UCLA in a semifinal tonight in the RCA Dome. "We can’t let that scare us. We can’t let that get to us. This is a different time." Columbus Dispatch

Tigers respect UCLA’s tradition: When it comes to college basketball, LSU and UCLA don’t have the same pedigree.UCLA is old money. LSU is a guy who makes a fortune in the stock market and blows it the next day. The Advocate Louisiana

UCLA coach soaring after start at NAU: Whenever hotshot, hoity-toity, million-dollar contract man Ben Howland needs a reality check, his thoughts turn to Flagstaff."NAU. 1994. I signed a very lucrative one-year contract... for $60,000. Non-renewable. And I jumped at the opportunity." Arizona Republic

UCLA eyes banner year: At Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus, they take interior decorating seriously. Hanging from the rafters — in navy blue with gold lettering — are the 11 national basketball championship banners. There are no banners commemorating Pac-10 championships, NCAA Tournament appearances or reaching the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. The letters N.I.T. are borderline blasphemy. Houston Chronicle

Bruins give Canadian a whirl at the big dance: Mississauga's Ryan Wright likely won't have any impact on the NCAA Final Four semifinals here tonight, but if the UCLA Bruins need him, at least he'll be ready. Toronto Star

LSU lays it on thick and thin: At 7 feet tall, 225 pounds and able to run the floor like a gazelle, UCLA senior center Ryan Hollins knows of what he speaks when it comes to athleticism. Tyrus Thomas and Glen "Big Baby" Davis have helped lift LSU into the Final Four. Yet even he seemingly couldn't come up with enough superlatives to describe LSU forwards Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Tyrus Thomas, each of whom he'll have a hand in trying to stop in the teams' national semifinal matchup tonight at the RCA Dome. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Bruins, Tigers aren’t afraid to mix it up: Baby blue is their color. Black and blue is their attitude. At some point early in coach Ben Howland’s tenure on the Left Coast, the UCLA Bruins woke up and realized they looked more like bruisers than a bunch of SoCal softies. Their opponent in tonight’s national semifinal, LSU, takes much the same approach to basketball -- preaching defense first, then letting the rest take care of itself. MetroWest Daily News

UCLA, LSU majoring in bruisology: One team is Hollywood cool and relaxed. The other, Southern charming and disarming.
Don't let the stereotypes fool you. UCLA and LSU banged their way to the Final Four. And they're convinced that's the only way to stay here until Monday night. That likely makes their NCAA tournament national semifinal tonight one only a grinder will appreciate. It might not be pretty, but it promises to be pugnacious. Times Herald Record

UCLA not just 'happy to be here': Here at the Final Four, there is no consolation prize available to UCLA, nothing for merely approaching the bar that John Wooden set impossibly out of reach. The Bruins have won 11 NCAA championships — 10 when Wooden was their coach — and only banners commemorating national titles are considered worthy of display back home in Pauley Pavilion. Austin-American Statesman

LSU basketball: Davis says just win, baby: LSU is in the Final Four for the first time in 20 years, anxiously awaiting tonight's tip off against UCLA in the national semifinals. And it could get ugly. The Tigers wouldn't have it any other way. And UCLA would probably second the motion. The Bruins (31-6) have a hot-shooting and athletic backcourt. Lake Charles Louisiana

Inside battle to determine whether LSU, UCLA move on: LSU vs. UCLA, on the inside, looks like the wide load and the jumping jack have a big advantage over the bruised knee and the broken nose.The wide load is LSU's 6-9, 310-pound sophomore forward Glen "Big Baby" Davis.The jumping jack is LSU's 6-9, 215-pound freshman forward Tyrus Thomas.Together, they average 31.3 points and 19.1 rebounds a game. The bruised knee is UCLA's 7-0½, 230-pound senior center Ryan Hollins, who banged his right knee in practice Friday morning and skipped the afternoon shoot-around. USA Today

LSU Tigers face a storied UCLA: Even here, in the capital of Indiana, the UCLA tradition is omnipresent.While the other three schools that qualified for Saturday night's national semifinals at the RCA Dome devised entertainment for their players Thursday night, Ben Howland took his youngsters to Conseco Fieldhouse so they might witness another chapter in Bruins lore. There, a capacity crowd of Hoosiers cheered as the Pacers retired Reggie Miller's NBA uniform number. Newsday

A Tradition Lacking Swagger: UCLA used to be the most intimidating letters in college basketball. Under legendary coach John Wooden, the Bruins captured 10 national championships in 11 years, won 88 consecutive games, the longest winning streak in NCAA history, and had four undefeated seasons.But since Wooden retired in 1975 after 27 seasons as the Bruins' coach, those four letters haven't meant as much in college basketball. Washington Post

Meet the Temples First family of LSU: Garrett Temple considered several schools while he was being recruited. Oregon got a serious look. Baylor and Stanford were in the running, too. In the end, Temple went with LSU. Naturally. Mercury News

The big story is the line movement in the LSU-UCLA matchup: For gamblers, the biggest story might be the equally surprising point-spread move in Saturday's game between UCLA and LSU. UCLA, a No. 2 seed coming off a mild upset against top-seeded Memphis, opened as a 1 1/2-point favorite against fourth-seeded LSU at Pinnacle, a major offshore sports book, before the game hit the boards as a pick 'em at most Las Vegas casinos. Since then, gamblers have been backing LSU with their money as if they had access to this coming Sunday's newspaper. The Tigers have been bet up to as high as a 2 1/2-point favorite in Las Vegas. Las Vegas Sun


Friday, March 31, 2006

UCLA Men's Basketball Injury Update (3/31)

By Bruin Basketball Report

Ryan Hollins suffered a a contusion to his right knee, just above the kneecap, in a collision with teammate Alfred Aboya during practice today.

"We started to ice it, and he did not practice the rest of the time." Howland said. "He has swelling there and will not participate in shoot around."

When asked what treatment Hollins will undergo before tomorrow's game against LSU, Howland said, "He's going to be with our trainer, Tony Spino, all night. He'll be hooked up to a Stim machine, and be 'stimmed', iced, they'll be massaging it."

Underlying the importance of the game, Howland said, "Just assuming it's musculature, it will take a team of horses to hold Ryan from playing. It's his senior year, his opportunity to play in the national semifinal game."

Hollin's playing status for tomorrow will be a game-time decision.

In other injury news, Lorenzo Mata who broke his nose on practice on Wednesday had a CAT scan done on the injury.

"Our trainer did a good job of snapping it right back into place. The doctors looked at it and were impressed," Howland said.

"Lorenzo practiced today with his mask on. Hopefully he can stay healthy here the rest of the way." Howland quipped.


UCLA vs. LSU - NCAA Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The UCLA Bruins play in their first Final Four game since 1995 when they take on the LSU Tigers in a championship semifinal on Saturday in Indianapolis.

In 1995, led by National Player of the Year Ed O’Bannon, Tyus Edney, and crew, UCLA defeated Arkansas, 89-78, in the title game for the Bruin’s eleventh NCAA Men’s basketball championship banner.

While the 1995 title game was a high-scoring affair, the semifinal between UCLA and LSU is expected to be a low-scoring contest in a match-up of two excellent defensive teams.

UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland got his young players this year to buy into his philosophy of “defense wins games”. UCLA has allowed 41% field goal shooting and only 58.6 points per game (10th best nationally).

In the Oakland regional final against Memphis, a team averaging over 80 points per game and shooting close to 50%, the Bruins limited them to just 45 points on 31% field goal shooting.

LSU has excelled on the defensive end against tough SEC competition. The Tigers limited opponents to 39.8% field goal shooting (21st best nationally) and 64 points per game.

Against a high-powered Texas offense, the Tigers held the Longhorns to just 30.4% field goal shooting for the game.

LSU plays primarily man-to-man defense, taking advantage of their overall team athleticism, although they have played some limited zone during the season.

With their quickness they create a number of turnovers off steals, averaging 8.3 thefts per game. Six players average more than one steal per game, led by point-guard Darrel Mitchell who averages 2.0 per contest.

LSU's interior defense is led by jumping-jack freshman Tyrus Thomas (Fr, 6’9, 215) who is perhaps the best help-defender in the nation. He averages an astounding 3.1 blocks per game (9th best nationally) and recorded a season-high 9 blocks against Tennessee earlier in the season. As a team, the Tigers average 6.5 blocks per game (6th best nationally).

LSU is led by SEC Player of the Year Glen “Big Baby” Davis (So, 6’9, 310). He averages 18.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game – all team-highs.

Davis is very quick for his size and girth and is able to get off the floor as well as someone half his size, as a result, he is an excellent offensive rebounder - 40% of rebounds are offensive rebounds and tough to stop around the basket.

He creates a match-up problem for whoever is unfortunate to guard him; against Texas, he dominated projected NBA-lottery pick LaMarcus Aldridge, using his size to push Aldridge around in the post.

UCLA’s Ryan Hollins will have a very tough match-up against Glen Davis in both defending him and keeping him off the offensive boards. He will need much help from the double-teams coach Howland already has planned for Davis. The doubles will need to come fast as Davis is very quick in the low block.

Hollins should expect help from the bench with Lorenzo Mata and perhaps even Michael Fey finding time against Davis.

Mata suffered a broken nose in practice on Wednesday but will be available to play against LSU. He will wear a protective face mask.

Coach Howland expects to use Fey in short spurts during the game. Fey has the bulk to guard Davis, although, Fey may find difficulty in keeping in front of him due to Davis’ superior foot-speed.

Tigers’ forward Tyrus Thomas, a red-shirt freshman, does not possess necessarily good offensive moves and is not a perimeter shooting threat, however, he is very active off the ball and knows how to make himself available for a pass off dribble penetration or off a double-team for easy shots as evidenced by his 61% field goal shooting during the season.

Bruin freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will need to be aware of where Thomas is at all times and keep a body between Thomas and the rim. This should be one of the better match-ups to watch on Saturday.

In past games, the Bruins have typically doubled in the low block with another frontline player, however, it wouldn’t be surprising to see UCLA switch up and double more with a perimeter player since LSU is not a proficient perimeter shooting team.

The Tiger’s best perimeter shooter is Darrel Mitchell (Sr, 5’11, 178) who averages 17.0 points per game but shoots 40% from three-point distance and only 43% from the field. The next best three-point shooter after Mitchell is forward Tasmin Mitchell (Fr, 6’7, 240) who shoots only 29% from beyond the arc.

LSU’s starting two-guard, Garrett Temple (Fr, 6’5, 180), is more of a defensive specialist than a scorer and averages only 5.2 points on 34% field goal shooting in 33 minutes.

Subsequently, the Bruins perimeter defense should be able to help inside with the double-teams, yet at the same time the Bruin perimeter defenders must protect against any Tiger guard dribble-penetration and easy entry passes into the post since both Thomas and Davis are good at catching the ball inside and finishing.

Although, sometimes LSU players try to do much individually after they catch the ball. As a team the Tigers average 15.4 turnovers a game with Glen Davis, Tasmin Mitchell, and Darrell Mitchell each averaging more than 2.3 turnovers per contest.

LSU’s bench includes Darnell Lazare (Jr, 6'8, 240), Ben Voogd (Fr, 6'1, 175), and Magnum Rolle (Fr, 6'10, 215); however, aside from Lazare, none of them have seen major minutes in tight contests during the tournament where each Tiger starter has averaged close to 35 minutes in those games.

UCLA’s physical, bruising style of play has often taken its toll on opponents who play with a shorter bench. If the Tigers plan to play their starters big minutes against UCLA as they have in the tournament thus far , the Bruins will have the advantage as the second-half of the game wears on.

To begin the semifinal game, the Bruins need to come out against LSU with the same level of intensity they started with against Memphis.

In the Oakland regional final, the Bruins executed their offense and attacked Memphis inside and did not take a three-point shot until eight minutes into the game. Moreover, it allowed UCLA to get their big men involved and active inside, especially Ryan Hollins.

As a result of the Bruin’s aggressive offensive attack inside and good execution on plays, Memphis’s big men got into early foul trouble - a similar result against LSU’s dominant big men would certainly be welcomed by the Bruins.

Game Notes: UCLA played in the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four held in Indianapolis twenty six years ago. Larry Brown’s Bruins defeated Purdue in the semifinal game, 67-62.


Love Follows UCLA Run Closely

By Brian Dohn, Staff Writer
L.A. Daily News

UCLA's unexpected run to the Final Four will impact the decision-making process of its top recruiting target, who is also one of the top juniors in the nation.

Kevin Love, a power forward for Oregon state champion Lake Oswego High, added the decision by former UCLA star Walt Hazzard to allow him to wear Hazzard's retired No. 42 jersey "continues to illustrate the class of UCLA."

"Of course, UCLA getting to the Final Four impacts my decision," Love wrote in an e-mail to the Daily News. "How couldn't it? I've known for three years that UCLA was going to get there, and it was only a matter of time.

"You could always see the fire and sense of purpose in Coach (Ben) Howland and (assistant) Coach (Kerry) Keating. I had the opportunity to watch a UCLA practice in November, and they are fun to watch. The coaches are so hands on, and they really work hard with each player."

Love, a 6-foot-9, 250-pounder and the son of former Lakers forward Stan Love, watched each of UCLA's NCAA Tournament games on television, but with a caveat.

"I have to admit that when UCLA was down big to Gonzaga at the half, I stopped watching," he wrote. "After the game, my mom put on the tape, and we ate dinner while watching the second half. It was insane ... I can't wait until this weekend. Of course, I'm going to be rooting for the Bruins, even though Big Baby (LSU center Glen Davis) is a friend of mine."

As for Hazzard's gesture, Love showed his sense of humor by asking whether maybe other UCLA recruits wear No. 42. He then wrote: "it just continues to illustrate the class of UCLA. You can see it everywhere. They are UCLA. They don't need to impress me. I need to impress them."

Love is considering UCLA, North Carolina and Duke.

Read all of the L.A. Daily News coverage of UCLA's Final Four run HERE

In other recruiting news, James Keefe, 6'8 UCLA-bound senior from Santa Margarita HS, was named to Parade magazine's All-American High School Boys' Basketball team as a second-team selection.


Pacers Retire Reggie Miller's No. 31

By The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- The chant of "Reg-gie! Reg-gie!" filled Conseco Fieldhouse one more time.

The cheer rang out from the full house Thursday night as Reggie Miller, surrounded by his four siblings, pulled a rope that raised a No. 31 banner into the rafters as the Indiana Pacers retired his jersey number.

The halftime ceremony started with video highlights of Miller's career, and the chant that was heard after many of his clutch long-range shots began even before he had a chance to speak.

"I never imagined that I would earn my way to anyone's rafters," he said.

Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh, who was greeted with boos when he drafted the skinny UCLA guard in 1987, credited Miller with leading the team to respectability after years as an NBA also-ran.

"You catapulted us into the elite of the NBA," Walsh told Miller during the ceremony. "You have been the heart and soul of this franchise for 18 years, and No. 31 deserves to go up with the best of the best."

Miller spent his entire career with the Pacers and credited Walsh, team president Larry Bird, team owners Melvin and Herbert Simon and the fans for making his stay special.

"It's been an unbelievable 18-year career here," he said before the game. "From Donnie to Larry to the Simon family, they have been tremendous, not only to myself, but to my family. I've been surrounded by a lot of love."

Miller, now a TNT basketball analyst, said he was honored to have his number sent to the rafters less than a year after his retirement.

"Those things usually take time, but the Pacers always do things first class," he said.

He was first Pacer from the team's NBA days to have his number retired, joining ABA stars Roger Brown, Mel Daniels and George McGinnis and former coach Bobby "Slick" Leonard as the only such honorees in franchise history.

Miller ended his career last season as the NBA's all-time leader in 3-point goals. He was a five-time All-Star, led the NBA in free throw percentage five times and is No. 12 on the league's career scoring list.

Matt Reiswerg, 25, wore a replica of Miller's white UCLA jersey to Thursday's game, attending with his father, Joe, a Pacers season-ticket holder since 1976. Matt Reiswerg tied Miller's career to fond childhood memories of watching games with his father and grandfather.

"He was the guy who always wanted to take the shot," Reiswerg said. "He always wanted the ball in his hands."

The Pacers never won a championship during Miller's career, but he was their key player as the franchise gained its first taste of success in years after joining the NBA in 1976. The Pacers reached the Eastern Conference finals six times and the NBA Finals once during his career.

"He's the most significant player in the last 20 years, maybe 30," Walsh said. "Since our ABA days. Reggie is the one who made our transformation to the NBA real."

Joe Reiswerg said Miller's absence tells as much about him as his presence did. The Pacers entered Thursday's game with a 35-35 record.

"It's obvious the team misses him," he said. "He was the heart and soul of the team. He held that team together. Now, they're a ship without a rudder."

It was the first such ceremony for the Pacers in more than a decade. Leonard's was the most recent, in 1996. Brown, McGinnis and Daniels were honored in a joint ceremony in 1985. All were with the team during the late-1960s to mid-1970s, when the Pacers won three ABA championships.

Miller said he was honored to be in such company.

"I'm not comfortable with it, but I'll take it."


Thursday, March 30, 2006

UCLA's Mata Breaks Nose (again) in Practice

By the Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- UCLA backup center Lorenzo Mata broke his nose during the Bruins' first practice after arriving for the Final Four, and will wear a mask in Saturday's semifinal against LSU.

Mata was seen by an ear, nose and throat specialist Thursday, although no X-rays were taken, coach Ben Howland said.

He was injured Wednesday night.

Mata also broke his nose at Arizona State on Jan. 7.

The Bruins planned to attend Thursday night's game between the Phoenix Suns and Indiana Pacers to see former UCLA star Reggie Miller have his jersey retired.

Miller played his entire 18-year career with the Pacers before retiring


Seniors Provide Veteran Leadership

By Jim Alexander
The Press-Enterprise

They are the survivors.

Cedric Bozeman came to UCLA in the fall of 2001, Ryan Hollins and Michael Fey a year later. Guard Janou Rubin preceded them all by a year, arriving as a walk-on in 2000.

All came to play for Steve Lavin. They stayed when Lavin was fired and Ben Howland replaced him, though they could have been excused for having second and maybe even third thoughts.

"I never thought about transferring," Bozeman said. "I knew the chance was there for us to get better."

Perseverance, persistence and resilience have been rewarded. The Bruins' first trip to the Final Four in 11 seasons is a fitting treat for seniors who found themselves in a system 180 degrees from the one they first joined, and a program that wasn't expected to blossom until after they were gone.

And while Howland bluntly stated this week that "the reason we are where we are is two very good recruiting classes," he also realizes that the guys he inherited have provided more backbone than he expected.

"It's great to see (people) work so hard and be rewarded for their effort," he said.

Bozeman, a 6-foot-6 guard from Santa Ana Mater Dei, has dealt with knee and shoulder injuries, a position switch and Howland's initial perception that he wasn't tough enough.

He arrived at UCLA touted as the second coming of Magic Johnson, a big point guard who could dazzle. It turns out he was more like the next Jerry Sloan, an off guard who is efficient offensively, a pest defensively and full of grit and scrappiness.

"There were probably times when it seemed like I wasn't playing tough," Bozeman said. "But everything happens for a reason."

Hollins, a 7-foot forward/center from Pasadena Muir, also dealt with the toughness question, but he kept coming back for more and has been a force in the 11-game winning streak that got the Bruins to Saturday's national semifinal against LSU in Indianapolis.

In fact, his career track probably turned around at the same time as the Bruins' season.

He had no points and no blocks in 22 minutes of a Feb. 19 loss to USC at the Sports Arena. Since then, UCLA has won 11 in a row, and Hollins has averaged 10.1 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24.3 minutes while shooting 71.9 percent from the field.

"We need him to continue to build on what he's doing, to let the game come to him," Howland said.

"Against Memphis, he was the most athletic guy on the floor among all the bigs, and it wasn't even close."

Even in the low moments, Hollins stayed positive.

"My Dad always said, 'Just believe in yourself,' " he said. "I know my talents and abilities, whether other people see them or not. If I do all the right things, they'll show through.

"At the beginning, Coach Howland didn't have to give me a shot. He doesn't have to put me in games. For him to give me a chance to play and develop and grow as a player, it's big."

Fey and Rubin have played lesser roles.

A 7-foot center from Olympia, Wash., Fey has played 17 games because of shoulder, ankle and groin injuries. He could see a larger role Saturday as Howland looks for ways to handle LSU's 6-9, 310-pound Glen "Big Baby" Davis.

"They've got 'Big Baby,' " Howland said. "We need big bodies. Fey will be called upon."

Hollins will welcome it, even if it cuts into his playing time.

"I know how bad Mike wants to play," he said. "His not playing hurts as much as if it was me. His size and touch around the basket can only help."

Lavin, reached by cell phone while en route to Indianapolis for the Final Four, noted that Hollins and Fey were recruited as "diamonds in the rough," and the fact that their first two seasons coincided with Lavin's 10-19 exit and Howland's 11-17 entrance probably hampered their development.

"Also, because we'd had so many consecutive successful seasons, the seniors and upperclassmen could take the youngsters under their wing and mentor them," Lavin said. "But because our last season was so challenging, Ryan and Mike's development suffered the most of anybody."

In that sense, Rubin, a 6-3 guard from Union City who had to petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility due to injuries, is sort of a throwback. He's backup point guard Darren Collison's road roommate and has shared his experience with the exuberant freshman.

This could have been a melancholy weekend for Lavin, whose teams reached the Sweet 16 four times and the Elite Eight once in his seven seasons at UCLA. But it's not. Now a commentator for ESPN and ABC, Lavin left congratulatory messages for Howland and for his former players after the Pac-10 Tournament and after last week's West Regional.

"We had such a good run of 11 years," he said, counting his time as Jim Harrick's assistant. "And I came in fully aware what the expectations are. If you deliver the results and create revenue, you get to make that run as long as you can.

"If you don't, someone else gets a crack at it."

(reprinted with permission)

(photo credit: AP)


L.A. in Wooden's Words

By Sam Farmer, Times Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times

Even though most people call him Coach, John Wooden prefers to think of himself as a teacher, and not just one who taught hundreds of UCLA basketball players during his 28 seasons coaching the Bruins. His Pyramid of Success, a diagram of core values, has helped shape the lives of thousands.

Wooden, 95, who won a record 10 national championships at UCLA and is widely considered the greatest coach in the history of college basketball, is largely unaffected by his success. He still lives in the modest Encino condominium he has called home since 1972. The place is stacked floor to ceiling with plaques, honorary degrees, photos, letters, poems, books ... and, of course, basketballs.

"Bill Dwyre once wrote that I was thrown into the limelight, into a place I never wanted to be," he said, referring to The Times' sports editor. "I'd be pleased if that were true. Regardless of how it might appear to others, I'm not comfortable there."

Wooden spent a morning with The Times recently and talked about his old-school values, his lesser-known love of baseball, the soft spot in his heart for Pauley Pavilion, and his view of the Los Angeles sports landscape over more than half a century.

I keep an old newspaper clipping folded in my wallet. It's from the time I was offered the manager's job of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Joe Brown was general manager at the time, and he's the one who made the offer.

It's ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. But I still keep the clipping just for fun.

"If I should take you up on this," I said, "who do you think they'd fire first, you or me? If I were the owner, I'd fire you first for hiring me. Then I'd fire me."

But I still keep the clipping. Baseball, not basketball, was my first love. In the almost 60 years I've been in Los Angeles, I've seen a lot of great baseball. Although I pull for all the local sports teams — the Lakers, Clippers, Angels — I've always been partial to the Dodgers.

When my wife, Nell, and I moved to Los Angeles in 1948, we lived in the same apartment complex as Vin Scully. We were neighbors for a little while. He moved on to a larger, nicer place. Vin is absolutely, unquestionably the greatest sports announcer of all time. I've listened to him for years. He's remarkable. He can do any sport, but in baseball, no one's close.

Why do I love baseball so? Baseball is thinking all the time. Every pitch is different. Every position is different. Every situation is different. There's the outs, who's coming up next, who you have in the bullpen. People say it's slow, but it's a thinking game.

The athletes who I've had the most respect for over the years are all outstanding thinkers: Sandy Koufax, Lewis Alcindor, Bill Walton, John Stockton, David Robinson. In the USC football I've seen lately, I like the way Matt Leinart thinks.

I was always a Dodger fan. I went to a lot of games and got to know most of the players. I was in their dressing room a lot. I had met Walter Alston, the manager, and knew him before I came to UCLA in 1948. They had a couple players from Indiana, my home state, Gil Hodges and Carl Erskine, and I knew them. I knew Don Drysdale, and I knew Sandy.

If I had a favorite Dodger, it was Sandy Koufax. He was modest and unassuming, and he left at the height of his career when he could have played longer. He had enough strength to walk away and not stay too long as some do.

I first got to know him when he went to the University of Cincinnati on a basketball scholarship. He's a big basketball fan. I sat with him a few years ago at a Final Four in Indianapolis. We weren't there together, but it just so happened that we were seated very close together. He's a shy type of person. We just greeted each other. We'd met before, of course.

A lot of Dodger memories have stayed with me over the years. I'll never forget the night they honored Roy Campanella. The Coliseum was full, and they had candles that lighted up the night. It was sort of eerie.

Before Dodger Stadium was built, the team played at the Coliseum. I remember Wally Moon, who was left-handed, hitting a little pop fly to left and it would be a two-base hit. And then Duke Snider would hit one twice as far into center field and it would be caught for an out. I remember Duke hurting his arm trying to throw a ball out of the Coliseum.

People have asked how my life might have turned out had I pursued baseball instead of basketball. I don't like to look back. According to others, though, I had some ability in baseball as a youngster. I was a shortstop and I had a great arm, at least that's what people told me. But I got to my freshman year in college and I turned into a fastball and got hit on the shoulder. I went from having a great arm to no arm at all. That ended my baseball.

In recent years, I've enjoyed following the Angels too. I'm very fond of Mike Scioscia, and I've been invited up to the owner's box to sit with Arte Moreno. I'm very impressed with him. When the Autrys owned the team, I sat with them on occasion.

I enjoy watching baseball far more than watching professional basketball. I've followed the Lakers. I've known a number of them. I went to a lot more games in the early years. I've gotten to a point where I don't care much for the NBA. I think it's become too much about the individual, too much one-on-one, too much showmanship.

I didn't like that Showtime business. I don't like showmanship. For example, as great a ballplayer as he was, and there's no question about his greatness as a player, Magic Johnson was not my type of player. I'll take John Stockton. That's the type I love. I'll take Jerry West. I'll take Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, David Robinson. Those are the ones who appeal to me.

One of our players at UCLA a few years ago intercepted one at center court and he was all alone, nobody within 25 feet of him. He jumped up, and instead of just laying the ball in the basket, he turned a complete 360 and threw it back down over his head through the basket hard. The fans were stomping and roaring. Somebody tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "What'd you think of that, Coach?"

And I said, "I'd have had him out of there before he hit the floor."

The better talent you have with which to work, the more difficult it is as a coach. The greater they are as players, for the most part, the more inclined they are to try to do it alone. As a teacher-coach, I was blessed with two of the greatest players who ever played who were completely unselfish and team-oriented: Lewis Alcindor and Bill Walton. It was obvious in practice and in games. Sure, they liked to score. But that was never first in their mind at all. "Me" was never first in them. It was always "we." That's pretty wonderful.

One of Phil Jackson's strengths as a coach is his ability to get players to accept their roles. That's one of his greatest assets. That's not easy to do. He had a little trouble with that a few years ago with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, but for the most part he's done a very good job of that.

Kobe is gradually growing up. He's made some mistakes, some horrible mistakes. He's extremely talented. You can give Jerry West the credit for seeing the possibilities early on and making the trade to get him. He's lived up to what Jerry thought he was, and maybe even better. Talent-wise, he's just amazing.

The box office depends on individuals. There aren't too many people in the Laker organization who are unhappy that he gets the attention that he does. They want somebody who gets attention, even if not all of it is good. I think he made some mistakes. We're all imperfect. Mother Teresa said that forgiveness sets you free.

As for Shaquille, I think he's always going to be a kid. As great as he is, I don't like him saying, "Everybody knows who the MVE is — the Most Valuable Ever." That's really childish in many ways. I wouldn't pick him over a number of other centers if I had a team of my own. But at the same time, I think he's the most valuable player in the game.

In my career as a teacher and coach at UCLA, the most valuable recruit we ever lost was Paul Westphal. He's the one who got away. He attended all my basketball camps, and I was sure he was going to come to UCLA. He changed his mind at the very last moment and went to USC. Paul has said that because we were doing very well at that time, he thought it would be better to help somebody else get in that spot and knock us off rather than just coming to UCLA and help us continue.

I've seen a lot of basketball players, and Paul Westphal is the only one who from what I saw was truly ambidextrous. I've had a lot of them who were pretty good with the off-hand. But you could tell whether they were left-handed or right-handed. With Paul, I believe that he could have shot with either hand and it would have looked exactly the same.

USC has had more than its share of great players and coaches over the years. I had tremendous respect for Rod Dedeaux, the legendary baseball coach, and I was very sad about his recent passing. We were friends.

And then there was John McKay. He had a great sense of humor. When I think about him, I think about the time I was in the airport and someone came up to me and said "You're John McKay."

And I said. "No."

"I know you," he said.

"No," I said, "you're wrong."

And he said, "If you want to go incognito that's all right with me. But I know who you are."

So I just said, "OK, you got me."

John and I were about the same height and had similar complexion. Maybe our noses were somewhat similar. I wouldn't say we looked alike, but I can see how someone might confuse us.

I think Matt Leinart — and, for that matter, Reggie Bush — will be an excellent NFL player. Leinart is very bright. I like his attitude, and I like the way he's conducted himself. He's a thinking quarterback. He doesn't have the physical qualities of some of the others, but he has other things that are extremely important. He's got what it takes above the shoulders, and that's the important thing.

For so long, people have looked at Los Angeles as a USC football and UCLA basketball town. Maybe one day that will change. Something I hope never changes, or at least doesn't change for a long while, is Pauley Pavilion. I think it's great the way it is. I'm responsible for the main floor not being in the center. Because when it was built, I wanted a full-sized freshman court that went perpendicular to the main court. I had them put in a curtain that could drop down and separate the courts. Our freshmen could practice at the same time as the varsity. The freshmen started a little later, and they could come over in their last half-hour on the main court and I could be with them.

You may notice that the scoreboard's not over the center of the main court, and there's much more room between the bleachers on one end than the other. So they'll move that, and they'll add some more seats. I can understand why they're doing that.

I'm also responsible for the room on the sides. You may notice there's more room on the sidelines at Pauley than at most any other arena. When I came, I wanted the visiting dressing rooms to be exactly the same as the varsity. I've gone to places where the visiting dressing room is horrible, whereas the home team's is very luxurious. I didn't want that. I didn't want either one of them to be luxurious, and I wanted them both the same. Now that's changed completely. They're not the same anymore. I wouldn't have approved of that.

Pauley Pavilion was the greatest thing to ever happen to me at UCLA. I hate the thought they were considering tearing it down. But they've decided now they're not going to tear it down. I'm glad about that. They say the restrooms should be updated. I haven't been in them, so I don't know. But that's OK. They were talking about luxury boxes and whatnot. I don't know about that.

For 17 years I was accustomed to mopping and sweeping the floor before practice. Practicing with gymnastics on one side and wrestling at the end. My players told me that occasionally on the trampolines at one end there would be coeds in leotards up there. I didn't notice it, of course, but my players did.

Sports have changed, and I understand that. It's big business now. More than ever, athletes are living in a fishbowl. I was never a supporter of allowing reporters in the locker room after games. But I understood it. My very last year of teaching, the NCAA tournament committee passed a rule that you had to permit the press in the locker room. My feeling was, if they think it's that important and it should be done, I'll do it. Did I approve of it? No. But I understood, and I didn't complain.

But when the chairman of the tournament committee said, "That'll take care of Wooden," then that hurt. Because I had been in that Final Four a few times, and I don't think anyone from the media or the tournament committee could say that I ever did anything but be accommodating. I knew coaches who didn't come to the meetings they were supposed to and various things. But I always did. I didn't send assistants or somebody else to represent me. I was always as cooperative as I could be.

Did that play a role in my decision to retire when I did? Well, you can't be sure about your subconscious. But was that hovering in the back of my head somewhere? I don't know. I can't say it was or wasn't. I had no idea from the outset that I would be retiring so quickly. I expected to teach two more years, no more than three. But then just like that I decided this is the time. After we had beaten Louisville in the semifinal game, as I was walking off the floor, I just decided now's the time to get out.

That's when I went to the dressing room and congratulated my players. I told them it was a wonderful game, a close game in which both teams played well. I just told my players, "It's a wonderful game. I'm very proud of you. Regardless of how we do Monday night against Kentucky, I want you young men to know that I've never had a team that has given me more satisfaction. You haven't caused me trouble on or off the floor at any time this year. I'm very proud of you. And that's a very nice thing to say about the last team that you'll ever teach."

They were all stunned. Nobody knew. I didn't even know it myself until a few seconds before I did it. I just decided like that.

Then I went to the press, and I thought eventually someone's going to bring up a question about retirement. And they did. I said the same thing I said to my players.

Some people said, "Well, I knew he was going to do it."

I didn't even know. Maybe they knew more about it than I did.

Although I've never regretted walking away from coaching when I did, the one thing I've missed is practices. I love to teach. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski had me talk to his team a few years ago before the Final Four. I miss that. Lute Olson has brought me down to Arizona to talk to his team and watch practice. I love that.

A couple of years ago, I spoke at an event for Costco, where one of my former players, Swen Nater, is an executive. Swen is also a poet, and a beautiful person inside and out. Someone asked me, "Coach, are you afraid of death?" It was quite a question to ask a 93-year-old man.

I said I'm not afraid of it. I'm not going to intentionally try to hurry it up. But I've been blessed with a wonderful place to live, where in an hour or two I can be at the ocean, in the mountains, in the desert. I can be at any sort of sporting event, a play, a movie. My family, my children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren are all within an hour or two of me. I've really been blessed. And I said, "Out yonder, I'll be with Nellie again." That's all I said.

So a couple days later I got a poem from Swen called "Yonder," and it refers to my wife, whom I lost in 1985. It reads:

Once I was afraid of dying,

Terrified of ever lying,

Petrified of leaving family, home and friends.

Thoughts of absence from my dear ones

Brought a melancholy tear once,

And a dreadful, dreadful fear of when life ends.

But those days are long behind me,

Fear of leaving does not bind me,

And departure does not hold a single care.

Peace does comfort as I ponder

A reunion in the yonder

With my dearest one who's waiting for me there.

(reprinted with permission)

(photo credit:Genaro Molina/LAT)


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Move Over 'Big Country", Here Comes "Big Baby"

By Bruin Basketball Report

Eleven years ago while enroute to the school’s 11th NCAA basketball title, UCLA had a huge order to contend with first in the semifinal game of the Final Four in Seattle.

Their opponent, the Oklahoma St. Cowboys, sported a 7’0 275 lb. home-grown kid named Bryant Reeves, or as people liked to call him – “Big Country”.

He was given the nickname “Big Country” by a teammate after he learned Reeves had never been on an airplane, although one look at the crew-shaven colossal-sized pivot and the double entente of the nickname becomes obvious.

Although an injury-plagued NBA career forced Reeves to retire only after six seasons, he was a dominant collegiate player while with the Cowboys. In his senior year he averaged 21.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 58% from the field.

In the semifinal game against UCLA “Big Country” was a load for the Bruins to defend. Both UCLA big men George Zidek and J.R. Henderson got into foul trouble trying to guard him, as a result, the Bruins were forced to play a zone defense to control Reeves.

And the strategy worked, although Reeves scored 25 points in the game – he scored only 7 points in the second-half against the zone. With no other Cowboy providing scoring, the Bruins pulled away led by Tyus Edney’s 21 points to advance to the title game with a 74-61 victory.

Fast forward to this year’s NCAA basketball championship semifinal game in Indianapolis and yet another large figure looms in front of UCLA.

This time it’s Glen “Big Baby” Davis of LSU.

Davis, a sophomore, was named SEC Player of the Year this season and is averaging 18.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks.

His massive proportions have naturally been compared to former LSU Tiger alumnus Shaquille O’Neal; however, the similarities between Davis and O'Neal go beyond their size.

While Davis, at 6-9, is four inches shorter than O'Neal, his massive 310-pound frame allows him to dominate the paint in much the same way Shaq did during his three seasons at LSU..

What's more, Davis also shaves his head and has a carefree, joking manner with everybody, especially the media, just as O]Neal does.

"But I'm not Shaq,'' said Davis. "I hear it everywhere I go. I should have worn my T-shirt. It says, 'I Am Not Shaq! We've got a couple of similarities. We like to dominate. But that's about it.''

And Davis is right, if his game resembles any NBA player, it would be Charles Barkley rather than O’Neal.

Like Barkley, “Big Baby” Davis has a rotund body which he uses to clear out space on post moves, and is ultra quick off his feet and skilled. He has great instincts in reading his opponents, and is relentless on the offensive boards.

Similar to defending against Bryant Big Country” Reeves, guarding Glen “Big Baby” Davis will be by committee.

UCLA’s Ryan Hollins, coming off his Most Outstanding Player performance in the Oakland Regional, will have his hands full with Davis to start the game. At 7’0 235 pounds, Hollins will be quite challenged to keep Davis out of the paint.

In addition to Hollins, sophomore Lorenzo Mata and freshman Alfred Aboya will also get a chance at Davis.

Senior Micheal Fey has only played limited minutes in the tournament thus far, but may see time against “Big Baby" Davis in this game.

“Fey's big body could definitely be a factor for us," Howland said. "When we're talking about Big Baby, we need big bodies." Not only may Fey get some playing time, but he’ll be able to give up to five fouls if the game evolves in that direction.

Unlike the 1995 Bruins, UCLA coach Ben Howland does not employ a zone defense and prefers a tough, physical man-to-man the entire game. More likely, the Bruins will double-down and rotate on Davis whenever he receives the ball down low.

UCLA needs to keep Davis from having a "big" game if they intend on advancing to the finals on Monday.


Video: UCLA Comeback vs. Gonzaga

An alternative view from the UCLA Band section of the thrilling UCLA last-second comeback victory against Gonzaga. Enjoy.


Video: UCLA vs. Gonzaga - Miracle in Oakland

The Miracle in Oakland: Closing seconds of UCLA's come from behind victory over Gonzaga.


It's Unfamiliar Territory Now

By Dan Weber
The Press-Enterprise

The further these Bruins go, the more they realize they're in unfamiliar territory.

Coach Ben Howland said he realized it Friday night at the team's hotel in Berkeley.

"We had a problem with autograph-seekers at midnight knocking on the players' doors," Howland said, and added that Ryan Hollins had someone knocking on his door all night.

Then Howland, with impeccable timing, deadpanned the obvious punch line regarding his 7-foot-1 senior center, who finished as the Oakland Regional's Most Outstanding Player.

"The way he played," Howland said, "I'm going to have someone knocking on his door."

Howland said the two coaches he called for Final Four advice were Memphis' John Calipari, who took a Massachusetts team there, and Jim Harrick, who took the previous UCLA team in 1995.

"Calipari was great," Howland said.

LSU: New 'Most Athletic'

Remember Memphis, the most athletic team in college basketball, according to Howland?

Well, hold that thought. The new "most athletic team in college basketball" is LSU, Howland said.

Now that he's seen some 20 LSU game tapes preparing for Saturday's game, there's no doubt. From Glen "Big Baby" Davis ("He's 6-10 and 310") to the long-armed Tyrus Thomas, Howland is impressed with No. 4 seed LSU (27-8).

Howland Praises Hollins

Howland said that Hollins, with 14 points and nine rebounds, "was the most athletic guy on the floor" in Saturday's game with Memphis.

"I didn't know he said that. ... That's big. Wow, when you think a guy like Rodney Carney was out there ..." Hollins said, referring to the Tigers' All-American.

Said Howland: "Now he'll meet Mr. Thomas Saturday."

Guerrero Sighting

Among the standing room-only crowd at the Hall of Fame room for Tuesday's news conference was Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, a member of the 10-person NCAA Tournament selection committee this year.

Guerrero was accepting congratulations -- for his UCLA team and the tournament field that has produced an interesting first two weeks.

Final Four by the Numbers

LSU is winless in its previous three Final Four appearances, UCLA is 24-4 in its 15. UCLA has won 89 tourney games in its 40 appearances, LSU 23. It's been 11 years since the Bruins last played in the Final Four, and 20 since LSU did. Former coach Dale Brown's 1986 team was the only No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four until George Mason this year. UCLA is 7-0 against LSU, with the teams' previous meeting coming in the 1994-95 season that produced UCLA's last NCAA title.

(reprinted with permission)


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Jim Harrick on UCLA in 2006 Final Four

Interview from the Sprint Tournament Center

Jim Harrick on his 1995 UCLA Bruins National Championship team compared to the current Bruins squad:

"The difference is we were a little bit older.We had Ed O'Bannon, a fifth-year senior, senior George Zedick in the middle and a four year starter, Tyus Edney, at the guard line. We were a little bit older than the current UCLA team and a little bit more mature. We faced tremendous adversity before our championship, being beaten twice in the NCAA tournament the two years prior, and it helped us grow and mature. But the NCAA is lot younger now and LSU is a young team too. Anything can happen."

Jim Harrick with some words of wisdom for Coach Howland:

"Let your players and coaches get a flavor of what this is all about but you don't want them downtown. Drive around and watch things through the bus maybe. Make sure a hotel security guard lets the players in and out of their rooms. Also, go out the back door. We went through the kitchen and out the back door because if you go through that lobby, it's crazy and all the boosters are there. Protect your team as much as you can, but let them have a good time too."

Jim Harrick on Ben Howland's responsibilities:

"I would tell Ben Howland to make sure he gets a driver for himself because he'll have enormous responsibilities."

Jim Harrick on living up to UCLA's expectations:

"Ben knew when he took the job that he had big shoes to fill. He's from Santa Barbara and has grown up watching and hearing all the hype. It's the reason he took the job. The expectation at UCLA since having back to back 11 win seasons weren't nearly as high. The Sweet 16 would be great. Now Coach Howland has raised the bar so the pressure is on him."

Jim Harrick predicts the winner of the UCLA/LSU game:

"I'm going with UCLA. They're going to clamp down on the guard line at LSU. There is a saying in basketball, if you cut the head off, the body dies. LSU at the point guard position is weak, and they are really going to have trouble getting into their offense and getting the ball to Big Baby. It starts right at the guard line and UCLA is going to choke them off."


Flashback: 1995 UCLA Basketball Champions Press Conference

Seattle, Washington
UCLA Bruins Basketball Team
1995 NCAA Men's Basketball Champions
Press Conference Transcript
April 3, 1995

MODERATOR: We have Toby Bailey. Tyus Edney. Ed O'Bannon and George Zidek. Along with Head Coach Jim Harrick. We will ask Coach Harrick to start the news conference out with some general comments about the game.

COACH HARRICK: I was certainly very concerned when we couldn't have our most valuable player Tyus Edney play. I knew before the game that he couldn't dribble or handle the ball. Sometimes these things work in your favor, but I wouldn't give emotion or divine intervention, a little bit of credit, but certainly I'd like to give our players a lot of credit. Starting with the guy, I think, is the best player in America, bar none, 30 and 17 in the championship game, and he is is a guy who would refuse all year to let us lose, always finding a way to win: Ed O'Bannon. And then George Zidek was just a mountain inside. He played great, great defense and offense and if he had made those two foul shots I'd really be happy for him, but he did a great job. And then we rely on Charles O'Bannon played a great game. And Cameron Dollar, I don't know what to say. I am speechless. To see the way he operated our team and directed it and led it and got us there our offense and the last five minutes, you know, he knew exactly what I wanted. He said don't worry, Ed will get the ball every time down. And guarding people and stealing the ball and doing the right things. And then of course Toby Bailey just was absolutely incredible. Inside and outside and when you open the floor that makes us -- that makes this team a very good basketball team. They opened the floor on Bailey and Dollar. And Edney, if we would have had him, it would have been, I think, the same thing. But the one thing that I want to point out, this is one of the finest conditioned basketball teams, probably ever. They are in great, great condition and they can play two, right now if they wanted to.

MODERATOR: We will open up questions for the players before we finish questions with Coach Harrick.

Question: George, I'd like to ask you about your play against Corliss, and, Ed, I'd like you to talk about you guys did such a nice job helping him down low whenever Corliss got the ball?

GEORGE ZIDEK: I watched a lot of films on Corliss after the Oklahoma State game. Besides that I saw Arkansas so many times on TV that I was pretty familiar with the way Corliss plays. And my plan was to push him outside and when he catches the ball, have a gap so he doesn't go by me and move my feet and every shot he would shoot would have to be a shot over me, so he would never score around me. That is about it.

ED O'BANNON: Yeah, it was a team effort. I think any time Corliss had the ball down low, we wanted to send somebody down there and fortunately it worked out. George is stronger than people think and I think he was actually stronger than Corliss thought and George just held his own and he couldn't do much with him.

Question: Tyus, can you tell us exactly when you first hurt your wrist; take us through the last 24 hours and when exactly did you know you weren't going to be able to play.

TYUS EDNEY: I first hurt it in the Oklahoma State game when I fell in the first half; almost kind of early. Just the rest of that day it kind of got sore; it got a little worse, actually, and I just tried to do everything I possibly could to get it as, I guess, as strong as possible and all the way up until the game time and when the game started, it didn't have-- I didn't have the strength that I needed I knew that I would probably hurt my team if I tried to stay in the game and you know, just and -- I knew I had to sit down and just do whatever I can on the sideline.

Question: Toby, you might expect some degree of intimidation being a freshman playing in a game this big. You showed absolutely no fear; you were in the middle; you were everywhere. Can you talk about what enabled you to get in the middle of the game and were there any nerves associated with it?

TOBY BAILEY: I don't think there is any nerves associated with this. I knew it was going to be the style of game that is complimentary to the way I play and I was just trying to attack him, the coach said, get the ball; firm up and just attack and that is what I am best at, so that is what I was trying to do.

Question: Could you talk about your emotions when you found out that Tyus was not going to be available?

ED O'BANNON: I was very disappointed. He is the leader of the team and he controls the tempo. He controls everything on the floor and when we found out that he wasn't going to play, it was hard to handle, but at the same time, we knew that he was positive; every timeout he was over talking to us and making sure that we were all staying together and basically everyone just felt they had to step up. Tyus handles a lot of the burden; especially during this tournament and we knew that he wasn't going to be with us, so we all took it upon ourselves to get even closer together and step it up in all phases of the game.

Question: Do you think Arkansas underestimated you a little bit and could you see them -- you kept scoring and scoring and scoring.

TOBY BAILEY: I mean, I am sure they watched tapes, so I don't know if they are that surprised, but after the first couple of points they started talking to me saying different things, you know, like I was just a freshman and it was luck and this and that, but I think they could have underestimated me; especially the way I played against Oklahoma State, I mean, I didn't have that great of a game and they might have you know, kind of overlooked me. To try and stop me when you have such great players like these guys on my team; this team has so many weapons you are not going to key on a freshman, so I think they could have done that.

Question: This is for Ed. Ed, knowing that Tyus wasn't going to be with you, and you guys were 7 deep, did you think it would be hard to play iron man?

ED O'BANNON: No, it's the last game of the season. There's no way anybody on this team is going to go out. And they say their bench is real deep, I mean, I don't know, whatever. We came out, we played as hard as we could with our six men, and we won by 11. So, it was sweet, it was the National Championship game. Ain't no way nobody is going to come out in this game and talk about retiring. Everybody sucked it up and we went out and we whopped them, simple as that, that's how we feel.

Question: Tyus, right before the second half when the team huddled in the corridor there, what did you say to the team?

TYUS EDNEY: I just told everybody that just try to just keep playing hard and we could win this game. And basically the style of the game was playing street ball, like we all played street ball, and that's getting up and down, and scoring, play ups and dunks, and I told everybody to just come out, keep staying aggressive and we'll be all right.

Question: For Tyus, just talk about how it was having to watch this whole game. And the crowd was chanting your name the last part of the game. Did that make you feel a part of it?

TYUS EDNEY: I felt a part of it. Even though I was on the sidelines, I felt like part of the game. It was extremely hard to sit over there and not do anything to help. But I tried to do anything I could on the sideline to help the team. And try to encourage them in any way, and pick everybody up. And basically try to be another coach out there. And that gave me a lot of positive feeling when I heard them chant my name.

Question: This is for Toby. Maybe I'm mistaken, but at the beginning of the game you looked a little bit nervous, but yet you settled down. When did you really feel comfortable, and was this exactly the style of game that you wanted to play?

TOBY BAILEY: This was exactly the kind of game I wanted to play. I was missing a couple of shots in the beginning, but I think that was because I was so pumped up and excited, I was shooting it a little hard. That's probably what it was. I wasn't nervous at all, I was just fired up. After playing against Oklahoma State, I was coming out here to prove a point. And I had heard all the critics saying the freshman didn't show up, and they're going to have to show up for this game. And that's what I tried to do.

Question: Tyus, could you talk about how Cameron did as your replacement today, what your impressions were from the sidelines?

TYUS EDNEY: Cameron just really stepped up today. And I think everybody on the floor had confidence and on the sideline had confidence that he could do that, because he's done it before. I knew that he's a winner, and that's the type of player he is, and he'll do whatever it takes to win. When Cameron was in I was completely comfortable, I knew we were in good shape as long as he's in the game. He's been our spark all year, and he's played like that I think consistently all year. And I've just felt good knowing that he was out there running the team and basically running the show. He just had an excellent game.

Question: Coach, I wonder if you could discuss in more detail how you were able to break down their pressure?

COACH HARRICK: Well, you just catch, positive on the and look, mostly. It's really hard, I think, in my opinion to really press real good basketball teams. We have good spacing. When you play Arkansas, you need as many players as you can who can pass the ball and catch the ball. And our whole plan of attack was receive the ball and attack the basket. That's exactly what we wanted to do, because they don't want you to run any offense and set plays and that's fine. We're the kind of team -- Tyus Edney is the kind of player if you open the court on him he's going to make you pay. And all along our players have picked up on that. And when you open a court on us we're pretty good. Ed is hard to guard, and Toby is a very fine player.

Question: Coach, I was just curious, with Coach Wooden in the stands, did you talk to him before or after the game, and if so, what he may have told you.

COACH HARRICK: No, I did not talk to him. He sent in word to wish us good luck before the game. But like Coach Wooden does, he stayed away. He had this planned all along, and now I find out. So, he's way ahead of me.

Question: Jim, at what point did you know that Tyus was not going to be able to do it? Was it in warmups, did you just feel you'd give him a chance or was it in the first couple of minutes where he was dribbling with his left-hand?

COACH HARRICK: It was in the locker room when he had a ball, and we were letting him play with it and dribble it. He could put no power on the ball on the dribble. So, I thought I'd start him and see if adrenalin would take over. But the first time down he went left-handed and he came down and turned it over. And I said that's enough of that. We'll go down the best way we can.

Question: Jim, Toby Bailey surprised a lot of people tonight, did he surprise you at all playing that way in a National Championship game?

COACH HARRICK: No, he's played like that a lot of games for us. And the reason he surprised everybody is because they don't watch us that much. He's had games like that, and when you open the court on him, he's a very fine athlete.

Question: Jim, what does this mean to UCLA basketball, what does if mean to you personally?

COACH HARRICK: Well, I'm certainly excited for our players and really for Chancellor Chuck Young, who's been there 25 years at the University, and Pete Dalis, who hired me. I'm really happy for them, because they stuck with me, and -- through thick and thin, and they've always been there for me. And our people that work at UCLA, the faculty and staff are very special people, and our athletic department, our students and our faculty and our boosters, and really the city of Los Angeles really it's my home, and I've been there a long, long time. Our children were born there. And we've been through a lot of tough times the last four or five years with disasters of -- there's been a lot of kind of depression, we've had the O.J. Simpson trial, and that's not really an uplifting thing. And it's nice that the city can get excited about something of that nature. And then for me personally any coach, any coach anywhere, this is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, and in your professional career it is the pinnacle of whatever you do. This is the pinnacle for me.

Question: Coach Harrick, what exactly did it mean to know, one, that Coach Wooden would come to this game, and that he was here to witness what amounted to a continuation of what he started?

COACH HARRICK: Well, we are very, very close friends, and for him to on his busy schedule and really being his age sometimes he doesn't feel well, and for him to come up here and do this to be with us and I've hammered him for all along, I said if we ever go, I want you there. And it really means a lot to me personally, because we're very close friends.

Question: Very simple question. Talking yesterday about driving into LA the first time; knowing nobody and having no job. What were you driving?

COACH HARRICK: I had a job. Teaching junior high school. I was driving a 1960 Belair Chevy stick shift with no radio or heater - or no air conditioning either. I had a heater, no air conditioning.

Question:Good shape?

COACH HARRICK: Yeah, my parents bought it for me for graduation that May, so this was August, so it was in good shape.

MODERATOR: Anything else for Coach Harrick? Thanks a lot coach.

(ASAP Sports)


Monday, March 27, 2006

The Final Four at a Glance

By Bruin Basketball Report

With the elimination of Memphis, Connecticut and Villanova over the weekend, for the first time since 1980, none of the No.1 seed teams will be playing in the Final Four.

The semifinal round of the Final Four has been set with No. 3 Florida playing Cinderella No. 11 George Mason in the first semifinal game; and No. 2 UCLA Bruins taking on the No. 4 LSU Tigers in the second semifinal game.

All four remaining teams advanced to the Final Four by playing stingy defense; and one should expect defensive battles to continue in the final games of the tournament.

UCLA held opponents to 41% field shooting from the floor including just 35% in the Oakland regional championship game, meanwhile, it's opponent in the semifinal game, LSU, held its four opponents in the tournament to just 33% shooting from the field.

Florida held Villanova to 24.7 percent shooting in the Minneapolis regional final, while its upcoming opponent, George Mason, held teams to just 39% in four games.

A glance at the Final Four teams to play in Indianapolis for the NCAA championship title.

Tentative Semifinal Game Start Times for April 1

No. 3 Florida vs. No. 11 George Mason 3:07 p.m. PT
No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 4 LSU 5:47 p.m. PT

No. 2 UCLA Bruins (31-6), Pac-10

Road to Final Four
Def. No. 15 Belmont (78-44), Def. No. 10 Alabama (62-59), Def. No.3 Gonzaga (73-71), Def. No. 1. Memphis (50-45)

Probable Starters
F-Cedric Bozeman (Sr, 6'6, 205), F-Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (Fr, 6'7, 225), C-Ryan Hollins (Sr, 7'0, 235), G-Jordan Farmar (So, 6'2, 180), G-Arron Afflalo (So, 6'5, 210)

Key Reserves
G-Darren Collison (Fr, 6'0, 155), C-Lorenzo Mata (So, 6'8, 235), F-Alfred Aboya (Fr, 6'8, 235), F-Michael Roll (Fr, 6'5, 205)

BBR View
Coach Ben Howland has the Bruins peaking at just the right time. A team known during the regular season as a guard-oriented team, UCLA has been getting outstanding contributions from it's post players, most notably senior Ryan Hollins. Hollins has averaged 12 points and 6.5 rebounds per game during the tournament and was recently named Most Outstanding Player of the Oakland Regional. The Bruins have been outrebounded over the last three games, and have been inconsistent from the free throw line - trends they must reverse if they expect to compete for the title this coming week. UCLA controlled the tempo against a very good and athletic Memphis team limiting them to a season low of 45 points in the contest.

No. 4 LSU Tigers (27-8) SEC W

Road to Final Four
Def. No. 13 Iona (80-64), No. 12 Texas A&M (58-57), No. 1 Duke (62-54), No. 2 Texas (70-60)

Probable Starters
F-Tyrus Thomas (Fr, 6'9, 215), F-Tasmin Mitchell (Fr, 6-7, 240), C-Glen Davis (So, 6'9, 310), G-Garrett Temple (Fr, 6'5, 180), G-Darrel Mitchell Sr, 5'11, 178)

Key Reserves
F-Darnell Lazare (Jr, 6'8, 240), G-Ben Voogd (Fr, 6'1, 175), F-Magnum Rolle (Fr, 6'10, 215)

BBR View
The Tigers have a formidable frontcourt. Center Glen "Big Baby" Davis (18.7 points, 9.8 rebounds) was the SEC Player of the Year, forward Tyrus Thomas (12.6 points, 9.3 rebounds) was the SEC Freshman of the Year, and Daniel Lazare (6.8 points and 3.4 rebounds). Fellow freshman Tasmin Mitchell (6-7, 240) has also been an instant-impact player. The Tigers have played strong defense during the tournmant and shut down two outstanding scorers in J.J. Reddick of Duke and LaMarcus Aldridge of Texas.

No. 3 Florida Gators (31-6), SEC E

Road to Final Four
Def. No. 14 S. Alabama (76-50), Def. No. 11 Milwaukee-Wisconson (82-60), No. 7 Georgetown (57-53), No. 1 Villanova (75-62)

Probable Starters
F-Corey Brewer (So, 6'8, 185), F-Al Horford (So, 6-9 242), C-Joakim Noah (So, 6'11, 227), G-Taurean Green (So, 6'0 177), Lee Humphrey (Jr, 6'2 192)

Key Reserves
F-Adrian Moss (Sr,6'9 247), G-Walter Hodge (Fr,6'0 170), F-Chris Richard (Jr, 6’8 255), David Huertas (Fr, 6’5 185)

BBR View
The Gators are an athletic and well-balanced team. A strong frontcourt is anchored by big man Joakim Noah (14 points, 64.1% FG, and 6.8 rebounds) and versatile wing Corey Brewer (12.6 points and 4.7 rebounds) . The team led the nation in field goal percentage shooting at 50.8% and also shoot exceptionally well from the three-points distance at 39.5% (14th best in the nation). Point guard Taurean Green (13.4 points , 4.8 assists) is solid at the point.

No. 11 George Mason Patriots (27-7), CAA

Road to Final Four
Def. No. 6 Michigan St. (75-65), Def. No. 3 North Carolina (65-60), No. 7 Wichita St. (63-55), No. 1 Connecticut (86-84)

Probable Starters
F-Folarin Campbell (So, 6'4, 200), F-Jai Lewis (Sr, 6'7, 275), F-Will Thomas (So, 6'7, 220), G-Tony Skinn (Sr, 6'1, 175), G-Lamar Butler (Sr, 6'2, 170)

Key Reserves
G-Gabe Norwood (Jr, 6'5 185), F-Sammy Hernandez (Fr, 6'5, 230)

BBR View
Patriots have two excellent low post scorers in Jai Lewis and Will Thomas, and guards who can shoot well from the outside. The team gets balanced scoring from its five starters who each average double-digits in scoring this season. Known as one of the stingiest defensive teams in the nation, they allow only 38.6% shooting from the field (9th best in the nation).


Sunday, March 26, 2006

UCLA Defense Smothers Memphis, Head To Final Four

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

Eleven years after winning their last championship, UCLA is returning to the Final Four.

The Bruins defeated the Memphis Tigers, 50-45, demonstrating once again – great defense wins games.

UCLA (31-6) held Memphis to a season-low 45 points on a paltry 31.5% field goal shooting by playing the type of defense they’ve exhibited during the second half of the season – solid, physical, and 40 minutes of all-out effort.

Memphis appeared to be caught off guard by UCLA’s aggressive man-to-man defense. They began the game shooting only 1 of 13 from the floor as Bruin defenders did an excellent job of closing out on shooters and pressuring the ball.

The Tigers struggled from three-point distance, shooting only 2 of 17, with the only two made shots occurring near the end of regulation.

One of the keys to the Bruin’s defensive success was in the match-ups devised by UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland. He switched the defensive assignments of his starting perimeter players to create advantages at each position.

Howland had Cedric Bozeman guard Memphis’ Darius Washington. Washington, a very physical 6’2 point-guard had difficulty establishing the offense and creating his own shot against the bigger Bozeman - especially in the first half when he was limited to only 3 points.

With Bozeman checking Memphis’s point-guard, Farmar moved over to defend the off-guard, Antonio Anderson, who is more of a defensive player than scoring threat.

The most important assignment went to UCLA defensive-stopper Arron Afflalo who matched up with Memphis leading scorer, and C-USA Player of Year, Rodney Carney.

Carney came into the contest averaging 17.2 points, but against UCLA he managed only 2 points in the first-half, and finished the game with only 5 points on 2 of 12 shooting.

"Most of the shots I missed were open lay-ups," Carney said. "I'm disappointed in myself. I couldn't knock down shots. I missed almost every shot I took. He played great defense on me, but I played terrible."

From the beginning of the game, the Bruins aggressively attacked the Memphis defense and tried to get the ball inside, rather than passively settle for three-point shots as they did against Gonzaga. Moreover, UCLA did not attempt a three-point shot until seven minutes into the game.

The biggest recipient of all the inside attention given by the UCLA offense was senior center Ryan Hollins, and he capitalized on the opportunity.

Hollins dominated Memphis’s front line with strong offensive moves and footwork most have not seen him display before. Additionally, he established excellent low post position, and rather than hurry his shot as he did earlier in the season, he patiently created space and took his shot in the rhythm of his offensive move.

The Tiger’s smaller post players could not match Hollins’ intensity with each getting into early foul trouble. Most noteworthy was Memphis’s menacing defensive specialist in the post, Joey Dorsey who sat out most of the first half due to his foul trouble and was never a factor in the game. He later fouled out of the game after playing only 21 minutes.

As a result of Hollins’ exceptional play, he was voted Most Outstanding Player in the Oakland Region.

He finished this game with 14 points and 9 rebounds, and would have scored more but he only went 2 of 11 from the foul line.

And it was horrendous UCLA foul shooting which kept the score close throughout the game. The Bruins shot only 20-39 from the line (51.3%).

The only UCLA player who shot well from the line was Arron Afflalo who was 8 of 10 from the stripe and finished with a team-high 15 points.

Jordan Farmar was only 1 of 9 from the field for 4 points but he did a good in controlling the tempo of the game for UCLA.

"We never got going offensively but they didn't either," Farmar said. "I know I didn't do anything special offensively, but I'm the happiest guy on the planet."

The Bruins will face the LSU Tigers in their semifinal game of the Final Four in Indianapolis on Saturday, April 1 with a chance to advance to the finals on April 3.

Most expected this UCLA team to be at least one or two years away from competing for a national championship, but now that they have advanced - anything can happen.

"At UCLA, no other banners but national championships go up," Bruins point guard Jordan Farmar said. "We haven't really done anything in the eyes of UCLA and UCLA fans."


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)