UCLA Dominates Xavier, Heads Back To Final Four
By KS Wong
Bruin Basketball Report
We all know UCLA only counts championship banners but...
Back-to-Back-to-Back Final Fours is pretty SWEET!
For the third consecutive year UCLA is returning to the Final Four after defeating Xavier, 76-57, in the West Regional Finals before 18,103 at the U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix
Freshman Kevin Love scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and was named the region's Most Outstanding Player. He averaged 21.8 points and 11 rebounds over four games.
However, as well as Love played in the series, the most outstanding player for UCLA against Xavier on Saturday was junior forward Luc Richard Mbah Moute.
Seemingly fully recovered from an injured left ankle, Mbah a Moute was his old self, active and disruptive on the defensive end while hustling on every offensive rebounding opportunity. He finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds - 7 on the offensive end, to spark the Bruins to victory.
Learning its lesson from the Western Kentucky contest, UCLA played nearly a flawless 40 minute game in disposing of Xaiver, dominating on the defensive end and executing as planned on offense.
The Bruins never trailed in the contest. Russell Westbrook set the tone of the game at the start when he stole a pass and glided down uncontested for a rousing slam dunk to open the scoring.
Brimming with intensity and focus, UCLA did an excellent job rotating on defense, especially in the low post, and closing out on Xavier's perimeter shooters. The Bruins held a solid Musketeer team to just 24 halftime points on a meager 34% shooting.
Darren Collison performed another one of his halftime closing acts by breaking down his defender and scoring on a tear-drop as time expired in the first half to extend UCLA's lead to nine, 33-24.
Collison was one of four Bruins to finish in double figures, In addition to Love and Mbah a Moute, Collison scored 19 points on 7 of 12 shooting and Westbrook hit on 7 of 11 for 17 points. Overall, UCLA shot 53.8% from the field in the game.
In the locker room, Bruin teammates and coaches reminded each other of what happened against Western Kentucky and the importance of playing the final twenty minutes as tough as the opening half.
UCLA began the second half with a 18-6 run to put them up by 21 points, 51-30, capped off by a Darren Collison three-point jumper. On the other end, the Bruins were stepping into passing lanes and playing excellent defense as a single unit as the Musketeers found themselves throwing away passes and missing shots they'd normally might make if not for UCLA's intense defensive pressure.
The Musketeers did mount one last comeback, cutting the lead to 12 points, but the Bruins learned its lesson from Thursday night. Instead of taking quick and hurried shots under pressure, the Bruins took their time and looked for good, smart shots while hitting their free throws to thwart any serious rally by Xavier.
When Kevin Love hit his second three-pointer of the game with under eight minutes remaining, it helped push the UCLA lead back up to a commanding 20.
UCLA shot 7 of 15 for 47% on three-pointers. Darren Collison was perfect, going 3 of 3 from beyond the arc.
Prior to the game, UCLA Coach Ben Howland thought the game would be won on the boards. The Bruins outrebounded the Musketeers 34-26 with Mbah a Moute and Love's combined 23 caroms leading the way.
With the Bruins' advancement to the next round, UCLA becomes the first team since the 2001 Michigan State Sprtans to go to 3 straight Final Fours. It also brings the school's total Final Four Appearances to 18 in its history.
Although of course, the number 12 is the more important figure for UCLA. After three consecutive Final Fours, the Bruins will be looking to hang its 12th banner up at Pauley Pavilion.
UCLA plays the winner of the match-up between Memphis and Texas in San Antonio next Saturday for a chance to play for the national championship.
(photo credit: AP)