Saturday, March 29, 2008

UCLA Dominates Xavier, Heads Back To Final Four

By KS Wong
Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

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)

UCLA vs. Xavier Post-Game Press Conference Notes


March 29, 2008

Darren Collison
Ben Howland
Kevin Love
Luc Richard Mbah A Moute
Josh Shipp
Russell Westbrook



COACH HOWLAND: I thought that first of all, our defense was tremendous tonight, and that's what was really the difference to hold the team to 36%. And Xavier is a very good team. It was really the key in the game, and also outboarding them by 8. They got off to a good start on the offense glass with seven offensive rebounds in the first five minutes of the game. We did hold them to 7 the last 35 minutes.

And I thought that all five of these guys had terrific games up here and was a great team effort, especially pleased again with Luc getting a double-double. When gets on the boards like that and seven offensive rebounds, it is incredible.

I thought Darren did a great job handling their pressure. I thought Russell was outstanding defensively. Burrell, I'm trying to look where his line was. The guy at 8 points.

Josh, I was so excited, as he knows, when I see that jump-stop pass to Kevin for the dunk early the second half, that brings joy to my heart (smiling), as all these guys know.

It was a great overall team effort and Darren did a great job running the show and we're getting spoiled with Kevin getting a double-double, but it seems to happen a lot. His teammates did a great job of getting the ball down low.

Actually knocked down his 3s today. Was it 3-4? No, what were you? 2-4. It was a great win for us and we are excited about the opportunity to advance to San Antonio.

Q. Coach said on the podium, we're happy to be going again, but we have unfinished business. Can you just sort of speak to the future a little bit and this being your third crack at the Final Four and that said, unfinished business?

JOSH SHIPP: Definitely. We came close twice. It definitely left a sour taste in our mouth. We definitely have unfinished business. It would be great if we can accomplish this goal. I mean, this is what we work for all year and hopefully we can do that.

LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: Like he said, we put ourself in a good situation, playing all year, winning the Pac-10, getting the 1 seed. Now we got a chance to advance to the Final Four for a third time. Obviously, the last two times we've been there, the outcome, we were not pleased with the outcome. Hopefully this time we are going to advance and have a different outcome.

DARREN COLLISON: This win feels good to make our third Final appearance. But we have been here before. That feeling is coming back. After the lost to Florida, didn't feel too good. I was telling Luc, the whole season was just erased from us last year. And so we don't ever want to experience that. We want to go back this time, we want to be focused. Definitely this win feels good but we're not satisfied.

Q. Luc, is this a process of your ankle getting healthier from the injury? This is obviously your best game since you've had that injury.

LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: Yeah, I think so. Definitely today I didn't have any pain or anything like that. My ankle felt fine. Like I said yesterday, it felt great almost. But just getting back into it, you know, just getting back to playing the game. That helped me a lot. And today I wanted to come out and play better defense and have my team win.

Q. Russell, can you speak to what you think is different about this team as to the previous Final Four teams?

RUSSELL WESTBROOK: We are playing great, great team, we're great together. Togetherness, our team is great off the court and on the court. It really shows when it gets down to crunch time, we all have trust in each other. It is real different from last year.

Q. Kevin the difference would be you going to the Final Four. You are the final ingredient that UCLA didn't have in the last two runs. How do you handle that pressure that is definitely going to come in the next week?

KEVIN LOVE: I don't know if that's necessarily the case. Coach did a great job the past two years as well as the guys that have been here already. I'm just trying to get in where I fit in. Just do as the best I possibility can. I know Coach Howland and the rest of the coaching staff will put me in the right position to succeed. I just gotta be coachable and go in the right spots and also you gotta be a little bit lucky too. You got to get the right breaks and get the job done.

Q. Russell, can you tell when your defense takes off with your game and guys are getting frustrated on the court?

RUSSELL WESTBROOK: We are a defensive team. That's what we do to start off the game. I think we did a great job of that, guarding everybody, rotating real well, getting out in transition. It was real good for us today.

Q. Darren, can you address the job you think Coach Howland has done and what sort of stands out about him as a coach for you, what you've noticed over these last few years.

DARREN COLLISON: You don't make it to the Final Four three straight times for no reason. Obviously coaching has something to do with it. You guys see us as having a good time out there playing to win. But you don't see behind the doors how much Coach Howland puts into it. He is constantly on our case, striving to make us better.
Sometimes we don't like it, but it is for our own good. And we understand that at the end of the day because, you know, when is speaking to us, he is speaking for a reason. Like I said, we don't make it to the Final Four appearance three times without him. He's been a great coach. He has been striving us to be the best players we can possibly be. It is not going to stop for me. I am sure it will continue on in the future because of how he is.

What I like about him, he is so competitive. He is like one of us. Some coaches out there are worried about coaching. But you can look at him as a player as well because it is almost like he is out there with us as well on the court.

Q. Kevin, what was it offensively that enabled you guys to control the game from the get-go pretty much?

KEVIN LOVE: Well, if we're going to touch on the offense, it all started on defense. We had the lead at half by about 9 points. They cut it to 5 early. But we just kept getting stops on defense. Everyone -- I mean, the starting five on the bench stepped up and hit big shots. That's what controlled the game for us. We used the clock to our advantage when we got up about 20 points, they cut it to 12 or 14. We kept knocking down our free throws and hitting big shots. Like I mentioned, using the clock to our advantage. That was huge for us. At the end of the day we are going to the Final Four and we got a W.

Q. Kevin, what are your thoughts about those chants of one more year, one more year at the end?

KEVIN LOVE: I'm just having fun right now playing UCLA basketball, playing under Coach Howland with all my teammates. It feels great. They could have been mentioning it to all those guys up here, not just directed at me.

It feels great, but we got business to take care of next week. I am not even thinking about the next level right now because I'm living in the now, living in the present so we can win these games next weekend.

Q. Coach Miller was in here amazed at how hard you played defensively without fouling. And he wasn't talking about getting bad whistles; it was meant as a compliment. How difficult is it to play as physically as you guys do on defense without getting in foul trouble?

COACH HOWLAND: The key is we have players that have quick feet and you got to have quick feet and play defense, not with your hands or your arms, but with your feet. So that's really the difference, I think.

Q. Can you reflect on what it means to go to three straight Final Fours?

COACH HOWLAND: Obviously it is unbelievable. I think it has only happened three times now since they've gone to the field of 64. So that's a real credit to how good our players are and how well they perform under pressure and over the last three years.
As I said before, I think this is by far the best team in the last three years because we do have a key ingredient, inside player that can score and rebound like nobody else in the country.

Along with all the experience and the outstanding perimeter play of Luc, Josh, Darren and Russell. And also our bench has been very good. I think James Keefe has done a terrific job, Lorenzo, Alfred. I know these guys played a lot of minutes tonight but that's what they've been doing all year.

It is exciting. I'm proud and very grateful.

Q. That theme of unfinished business that the players were talking about, how much has that been discussed over the course of this season?

COACH HOWLAND: Actually, that was a question that was answered by the players. They weren't talking about it. They were asked about unfinished business. That wasn't something they brought up, they just responded to it. So the way you phrase that question, first of all, was inaccurate. That was in answer to a question.

But, obviously, the guys that returned from the previous couple years have had that tough loss against Florida both times. And it was obviously very disappointing. We were beat by a great team both years, Florida was just special.

And I think that the experience that the guys have played in those two teams have gained along with Russell and James really helps this team. And I think this is the best field for the Final Four this year in the last three years. When I look at -- it doesn't matter if it is Louisville or Carolina, Texas or Memphis, Davidson or Kansas, it is going to be the toughest, I think, four teams that's been in this tournament in a while. And that's going to make it doubly difficult for us.

Q. Coach, when I asked Darren about you, he mentioned how -- he almost sees you more like a player, that you're as competitive as they are and not as much -- didn't define you as much as a coach. What do you think by he meant that by that? What is he seeing that prompts him?

COACH HOWLAND: The part I heard that I will ask him about is "I don't like it all the time" (smiling). It means a lot to me that he feels my passion, he knows that I'm with them 110% all the time. We're always striving to play a perfect game knowing we never will but that we work really, really hard and we spend a lot of time and effort and preparation for every opponent, and work really hard at our games and really sacrifice for one November. It is a total team effort and our guys have just been fantastic.

Q. Ben, could you address Kevin in terms of his leadership. You start three juniors. They talk about -- and you can see it on the floor and they talk about it in the locker room, the leadership qualities that he has. Can you talk about that.

COACH HOWLAND: He is a great player. Again, he was MVP of the Regional and deservedly so. And with that maturity, like this, answering the questions he answered up here, you know, there was some curve balls thrown, he is very, very mature.
He has a special gift, and he is an outstanding leader and he leads a lot of times through example with his competitiveness, his toughness, his battle -- the way he battles.

I was watching that Texas A&M game. It was just amazing how he was battling with seven blocks in that game. He does whatever it takes to help his team win. He is also very verbal. He is obviously very intelligent and bright and has the respect of his teammates and has earned it.


Back To Back To Back Final Fours!

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score | AP Recap

UCLA 76 - Xavier 57

(photo credit: AP)


Friday, March 28, 2008

UCLA vs. Xavier - Tourney Game Preview

By KS Wong
Bruin Basketball Report

Top-seed UCLA faces a tough Elite 8 match-up when it faces No. 3 seed Xavier on Saturday afternoon in Phoenix.

UCLA (34-3) held on to beat Western Kentuky, 88-78, to advance on Thursday. Three Bruins recorded double-doubles; Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and James Keefe. Junior Darren Collison had one of his worst games of the season, scoring 4 points and fouling out with five minutes remaining in the contest.

The Musketeers (30-6) advanced to the West Regional Final with a 79-75 overtime win over West Virginia. Senior Josh Duncan led the way with a career-high 26 points and five rebounds.

Xavier was 14-2 in the 2008 Atlantic 10 Conference regular season race, winning its second straight Atlantic 10 Regular Season Championship.

The West Regional Final game will feature two teams that resemble each other in many ways.

Similar to UCLA, Xavier plays a tough man-to-man defense and has physical players up front and off the bench. They are not a gambling defense but do a good job preventing dribble penetration and staying in front of their opponent.

Xavier allowed just 63.1 points per game on 40.6% shooting. The Musketeers held a +5.4 rebounding margin per contest this season.

Offensively, Xavier features solid half-court sets and excellent three-point shooters, and have the ability and personnel to score in transition when the opportunity arises. They averaged 75.6 points per game while shooting 47.8% from the field and an efficient 39.6% from three-point distance.

Xavier is a senior laden team and has five players averaging in double figures in scoring and a sixth that is close: senior Josh Duncan leads the way at 12.4 points per game. Senior Drew Lavender is second at 10.9 ppg, followed by sophomore Derrick Brown (10.8 ppg.), juniors C.J. Anderson (10.8 ppg.), B.J. Raymond (10.1 ppg.) and senior Stanley Burrell (9.8 ppg.).

Josh Duncan (6'9, 238, Sr) has earned game MVP honors for Xavier in all three of its 2008 NCAA Tournament wins. In the three games combined, he has scored a team-high 20.7 points and grabbed 6.0 rebounds.

Duncan can post up inside and can step out and shoot effectively out to the three-point line. He is shooting 50.2% from the field and a team-high 42.9% on three-pointers.

6'8 junior forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will get the starting defensive assignment against Duncan. This is a good match-up for UCLA to have one of its best defenders on Duncan. However, Mbah a Moute has been hobbled by a sprained left ankle and was wearing a boot yesterday. He states his ankle is fine and is ready to go 100% on Saturday.

At point-guard, Xavier has speedy Drew Lavender (5'7, 153, Sr). A dangerous three-point shooter, he leads the team in assists with 4.5 per game. UCLA's Darren Collison will need to keep Lavender in front of him and out of the paint on the offensive end.

Guard Stanley Burrell (6'3, 120, Sr) was the 2007-08 Atlantic 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year and is a candidate for National Defensive Player of the Year honors. He averages 9.8 points and is also a threat from beyond the arc, shooting 39.1%. Burrell will likely shadow Collison on the defensive end since he usually guards the opponent's best perimeter offensive player.

Derrick Brown (6'8, 225, So) gives Xavier some size along the front line. He averages 10.8 points on 60.4% shooting. Brown is the team's leading rebounder at 6.6 per game, he has a good midrange game and finishes strong at the rim. Kevin Love will likely be matched-up against Brown.

C.J. Anderson (6'6, 220, Jr) is a rugged player who averages 6.0 rebounds and is a solid defender. He scores 10.8 points on 52.2% shooting. Anderson will likely lock up with UCLA's Josh Shipp for most of the contest.

The Musketeers get solid contributions from its bench of Jason Love (6'9, 225, So), B.J. Raymond (6'6, 226, Jr), and Dante Jackson (6'5, 205, Fr).

Love gives Xavier size and a physical player off the bench especially to help counter Kevin Love. He averages 6.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in just 18.0 minutes per game.

Raymond gives the team instant offense and is deadly from beyond the arc, shooting 41.3% on three-pointers, while Jackson gives another long-range shooter and solid defender on the wing.

The Bruins will not be able to play a 20 minute game against Xavier, as it did against Western Kentucky, and expect to come away with a win. The Musketeers are much too deep and talented at every spot on the floor.

With an excellent defense and a go-to-scorer in Josh Duncan, the Musketeers are a legitimate contender for the NCAA championship this year.

(photo credit: Xavier Athletics)


Elite 8 Press Conference Notes: Coach Howland and Players


March 28, 2008

Darren Collison
Ben Howland
Kevin Love
Luc Richard Mbah A Moute
Josh Shipp
Russell Westbrook


THE MODERATOR: Let's begin with questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Darren, the concentration lapses that you guys have had this year, for a veteran team -- or an experienced team that might be kind of rare. What do you think has caused them throughout the season?

DARREN COLLISON: I think it is lose sight of focus. It happens in the game of basketball. You try to play consistent basketball throughout the whole season. Then you have nicks and bruises throughout the whole season. But the best thing about basketball, you bounce back and live through your mistakes. I thought this team has done a good job of that.

Last game, I took full responsibility the way we played. We didn't play nearly as well. As the leader of this team, I didn't play nearly as well. I let my team down. It is all bouncing back and going from here.

Q. Kevin, how much of a sense of urgency do you think you guys have? Do you think you have enough or do you need more?

KEVIN LOVE: I think so. We definitely need it because every game we need that urgency just because we know if we lose one and other team wins by one point, we're done for the season. So we're definitely going to need that sense urgency coming down the stretch because Xavier is a very good team. From Lavender, their point guard, all the way down to Duncan, their big man. We will have to come to play tomorrow and be on our A game.

Q. What have you learned from the controversy of the last couple of games that you hope will help you in tomorrow night's contest? Because as Kevin mentioned, once before you've gone to the well maybe once too many times.

JOSH SHIPP: We had the close game. We had the game where we had the lead and the other team came back. I just think it is just being battle tested. We've experienced it both ways, and I think we just have confidence to know we can win the game regardless of the situation and we stay in the game and play hard on defense, we have a chance to win them.

KEVIN LOVE: Coach Howland has mentioned throughout the season with a lot of the wins we have had to come from behind or stuck it out in the end, we always have the sense or the feeling that we're going to win the game. Just knowing that will help us a lot, like Josh mentioned, gives us a lot of confidence no matter what the situation and we're feeling good about that.

LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: They said it all. We have been in situations before, so going down the stretch, we always know we are going to come back and the team always has that spirit and that energy and it helps us a lot.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Like Luc said, they said it all. We just got to do what we need to do. Sometimes we come out a little sluggish, but this team has a lot of fight in them and never gives up.

DARREN COLLISON: Definitely. It is about not quitting. This team has learned that we're always going to fight to the end. Of course, we like to blow teams out. At this time of the tournament every team will give it their best shot. I think that's what we learned for the most part.

Q. When each of you got three and four fouls fairly early in the second half, do you think you pulled back a little bit even if it was subconsciously to try not to get fouls and is that part of why the defense maybe wasn't as aggressive?

DARREN COLLISON: Definitely it is back of your head that you have three or four fouls. I don't think I did that down the stretch, in terms of the getting fouled out of the game. Yeah, every time you get in foul trouble, you can't play as aggressive as you want to play. You start to play a little tentative. I think that's when the opposing team, they start to notice that and start taking advantage of that.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK: I know I had four fouls and I was playing a little tentative. Coach told me I need to stay to finish the game off. Sometimes defense comes off a little bit, but it is just something you got to fight through.

JOSH SHIPP: Any time you get those fouls, you definitely try to play smarter and not pick up a foul. Sometimes you have to let a few things go. I mean, you definitely try to stay in the game knowing your team needs you out there.

Q. Kevin, you guys have had a lot of size all year and now at the end of the year James Keefe has come on really strong. I wonder if you can talk about what that means to you and to the team.

KEVIN LOVE: Well, he's helping us big-time. He is at his best when his best is needed. He is playing as an X factor for us. Showing up playing great games in the tournament. Also in the Pac-10 tournament as well. If we can keep that going, keep that streak alive, that will be huge for us down the stretch and against Xavier as well.

Q. Kevin, I wondered if there was anything about being a high-profile player at a high-profile program that isn't great all the time or is tiring, maybe the lack of privacy? Is there any part about it that's not always fun?

KEVIN LOVE: I feel like it comes with the territory. We have a lot of high-profile guys on our team and they can mention all five of them here, up in the locker room as well.
Privacy is sometimes an issue but it comes with the territory. It is something you have to live with. Not make mistakes. I feel like I am a good character kid and raised up by a good family. Other than that, I'm just living -- living the dream here playing for UCLA.

Q. What sort of challenges does Drew Lavender present for you?

DARREN COLLISON: Good point guard play. I don't think he turns the ball over a lot. Any time you have a good point guard play, you go far in the tournament.
Obviously he led his team to the Elite Eight for a reason. I have to understand that. You can pressure him at times, but you can't expect much. He is a senior. He is a leader on the team. And I got to be able to stay poised on defense.

Q. Can you guys talk about playing a team that's similar style with you with man-to-man defense and playing a slower tempo?

COACH HOWLAND: What was your question again?

Q. Can you talk about playing against a team that plays man-to-man defense and plays a slower tempo that might be more well-suited to you guys.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Xavier is a good team. They wouldn't be in the Elite Eight for nothing. Same style of play. We just got to come out and play our game. They are going to play theirs and we'll see what happens.

Q. In the locker room several guys were saying you thought you all in the second half lost focus a little bit. For those of us who don't play, how is it possible to lose focus in a game this big, this important?

KEVIN LOVE: I don't know necessarily if we lost focus. We just -- we let up a little bit. Players got in foul trouble and we were a little bit careless with the ball.
Other than that, we got the W. We pulled out with the win in the end. We hit our free throws. We can't keep letting up like that because we know that whether we were to get past tomorrow, move onto the Final Four, there's going to be a lot of good teams. Everybody from here on out is very good. This is March Madness, so anything can happen. We have to come out, like I mentioned a couple times, and be on our A game.

Q. Darren, you haven't had much foul trouble this year, especially the guards. What happened -- what caused it last night, do you think?

DARREN COLLISON: I think just being a little bit too aggressive at times. I know at times I had three fouls, I was supposed to play with my hands in my pocket, be a little bit smarter. And, again, a stupid foul. The last foul was a stupid foul as well.

I just got to play smarter. In that situation, I have to be in that game, especially when they are pressing like that. I have to be in that situation with my teammates out there. But most importantly, all you can do on the bench is support them. I am thankful they got the win out.

Q. Everyone keeps talking about focus, and that's such a broad term. What exactly are you talking about? Is it effort? Is it attention to detail? Is it focusing different things out? What is that?

DARREN COLLISON: I think it is all of the above. You know, in this stage you got to be attention to detail, you got to be focused. You got to be prepared. The minute you lose sight or lose focus of what you have to do, teams are going to punish you. Especially in the Elite Eight. Teams are good enough to punish you for your own mistakes. Any time you do let down, teams will capitalize and go for it.

Q. Luc, how is your ankle today? Just the daily question on how it came back from last night.

LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: My ankle is great. Feels really good.

Q. Is it swollen?

LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: No, it is not swollen. It feels really good.

Q. Luc, my ankle feels good, but I am not wearing a boot. You have got a boot on. What does that have to do?

LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: That's just precautionary. Other than that, my ankle is good. I was able to go to walk-through today. Everything feels fine.

Q. Your first head coaching job was a couple hours up the road at NAU. Can you talk about what you learned about being the head coach there.

COACH HOWLAND: It was a great experience, number one, raising a family in Flagstaff. We were there for five years and my daughter Meredith and my son Adam and my wife Kim really enjoyed living there. And it was a great experience. It was building a program from the floor up. In other words, when I actually got the job, there were, at that time, 309 schools, I believe, thereabouts, that had played a division 1 schedule the previous decade and NAU was in the bottom ten of all 300-plus schools in winning percentage. So we had a long way to go. And it was a rough road.

When you move over to that 12 inches from that assistant coaching position to the head coach, it is a big difference because you are now responsible. That was the beginning of me formulating how we were going to play and understanding that every different job has a profile-type kid that fits that job.

At Northern Arizona, for example, we took shooters. What I decided was we were going to recruit kids from towns that wouldn't have a problem living in a town of 30,000 people in the snow. So we went to places like Hobbs, New Mexico, and Loveland, Colorado, and Snow Junior College in Ephraim, Utah. We went to Visalia, California. We got a couple players from in the Valley, Casey Frank was one of them. Chico, California. We led the country in three-point shootings three years in a row there and had a couple big kids who probably shouldn't have been that level, probably should have been higher. Dan McClintock was notably drafted in the second round.

And then at Pitt we changed up because now we could get athletes, we were recruiting city kids because it was a northeastern city. So I can't even go into all the things I learned. But it was a lot and it was a great experience, and I really enjoyed my time at Northern Arizona University.

Q. When things started to unravel last night you called a couple time-outs to settle things down. When teams go on another run, when you guys lose your focus a little bit, what are you trying to tell your team to snap them back into place?

COACH HOWLAND: It just depends on each game. Last night I think the thing that fueled Western Kentucky's ability to get back in the game were our poor shot selections.
We had leads where we were coming down, up 17, up 18 and taking quick, hurried shots and not understanding time and score.

When you're up 17, 18 points, we're in no hurry. Now, we'll attack if they're so out of control with their pressure that allows easy baskets. But that's basically what I was talking about last night, trying to get the shot selection part under control. And we were in a little bit of a hurt because we had the foul trouble issues.

But every game is different, so it can't generalize what you talk about in a time-out in every game that was last night.

Q. I was asking Kevin about handling the responsibility of who he is and the attention. I was wondering how you see him handle it day-to-day being Kevin Love. Does anything stand out?

COACH HOWLAND: Just how he has handled it so well. It is an incredible amount of attention and pressure. And I thought, you know, in November it got to a point where we had to start saying -- he was getting requests every day of the week. He was doing photo shoots at midnight for magazine covers. So it was going seven days a week.

Finally we got it real reeled back in so it was more realistic for him to attend school and take care of his responsibilities academically. To have a, quote-unquote, seminormal life without constantly having to have an interview or a photo shoot every day of the week.
But he has handled it all. He came with it. He knew it, and it is really -- it is incredible to me -- I said that the other day. He is 19 years old and he acts like he is a seasoned veteran that's been around for 20 years when he's only been around for 19.

Q. When Darren fouled out and with Russell close to it, what is your third option at point guard?


Q. Josh?


Q. Has he played that much in practice?

COACH HOWLAND: No. But I have confidence that he can do it. He actually did it, I think, a bit two years ago when -- I forget Jordan was hurt or something. He played it for a minute. Aaron was our backup point guard. Maybe it was his freshman year. That's what it was.

We had really no backup for Jordan Farmar, so Aaron was the backup and then the third was Josh, and we used Josh there once in a while.

Q. When you hear your players talk about loss of focus, what does that make you think? Do you -- second part of the question is, is there a concern that sometimes there is such -- you are such a hype team that some of these kids buy into that maybe?

COACH HOWLAND: I don't buy that for a minute. Our guys know that anybody can beat us on a given day. The flip side of that is I think we can beat anybody on a given day. We got to be ready to play.

And loss of focus, I don't know if it was that. I just think it was -- you know, emotionally, we were so ready to play and jumped on them. Were up 21 at the half.
We didn't have that same fire and I really tried to address it at halftime because I knew they were going to make a run. And then what really fueled it were the foul troubles and the bad shots. I thought we made some horrendous selections of our shots early in the possessions and that hurts. And they came out and you got to give Western Kentucky credit. They're a good team. They were there last night for a reason. They're very, very good.

Q. You said yesterday you knew Sean Miller's father John from Blackhawk High School. Is that from your days at Pitt or longer than that?

COACH HOWLAND: Just the days at Pitt. I met Sean at about that same time. We tried to recruit one of John's players who actually ended up going to Ohio State. A kid name Brandon Fuss-Cheatham. I got to know John then. He used to run camps. He's got a big camp business that he runs. Drills For Skills, I believe it's called. My son attended his camp. He does a real nice job. He is a very good coach.

You guys remember him. He had Sean started at an early age. Sean Miller was on the Johnny Carson show doing his little dribbling exhibition back when he was, like, 4 years old or whatever. That's kind of cool for me because I enjoyed Johnny. (Smiling).

Q. You look at Xavier, they have the Josh Duncan guy. He is a lot like Kevin Love in that he can step out and hit shots. Can you just talk about that's where college basketball is headed, those kind of forwards that can step out and play under the basket? And how much of a matchup problem is that for teams?

COACH HOWLAND: It is a problem, he is a very good three-point shooter, Duncan is. He has a great post-up game around the basket. He is a very good, clever player around the basket. He also obviously -- they run plays for him. They run sets just to get him wide-open shots from 3. He picks and pops. They flare for him to get catches. He slips.
He is a very intelligent player when you watch him on tape, Duncan is. So he is just a good player. When you see the next level guys in the NBA, the guys that are practicing in this gym, there is a lot of them that are similar to that that can post up and play with their back to the basket. They can face up and shoot it, that have skills to pass and bounce it. That's when you get a great player, like Kevin and like Josh.

Q. Semifacetious question, last night you said something about the fans trying to keep them on the edge of their seat.

COACH HOWLAND: That was a joke.

Q. I understand. I have been wondering, you have a fan in L.A. that got out of the hospital, Coach Wooden. Do you think he can take all these close calls?

COACH HOWLAND: Yeah, I think he's been through enough games in his life time now. He's the best, though. I really enjoy knowing that he is watching his team, and this is his program. And we all are very much aware of that, that he is the one.
So I am excited he's back home now and is doing much better.

Q. Did you talk to him?

COACH HOWLAND: I talked to him Sunday. I talked to him on Sunday.

Q. Does he plan to go to the Final Four?

COACH HOWLAND: No, he won't be going to the Final Four regardless of what happens with us one way or another.

Q. This is a year when a lot of coaches from smaller teams or smaller conferences start to think about taking bigger jobs. You obviously went through that process and now you have arguably the best job in the country. Can you talk about how important it was taking that step to Pittsburgh, being in the Big East and how that prepared you for where you are at now?

COACH HOWLAND: It was just an unbelievable blessing that Steve Pederson, the athletic director at Pitt, hired me from Northern Arizona to come all the way to Pitt and the Big East conference. It is an incredible process how that happened.
And still amazes me. That's really how I had a chance to get this job because now I was in a major conference and we did real well. We won a couple championships in that league, were ranked in the top ten my last two years and went to a couple Sweet 16s. So I will always be very thankful to Steve Pederson to give that opportunity along with Mark Nordenberg at the University of Pittsburgh, who is also a good friend.

Q. Is there something that you could give kind of advice to -- some of these younger coaches that -- what about a job like Pittsburgh was attractive to you? Are there some jobs that maybe they need to be wary of? What kind of --

COACH HOWLAND: I think when you are looking at other jobs, number one, there is a lot of things that go into it because my whole focus was having a chance to win.
Now, when I went and met with Steve Pederson, they had the new building on the horizon, and when I went to visit University of Pittsburgh, I never saw the building I coached in for three years, Fitzgerald Fieldhouse. I maybe would have been a little hesitant. It was a good move by Steve. But the promise of the building was there.
It is the Big East tradition, history of having good basketball.

So, you know, for a guy coming from the Big Sky conference it was a great opportunity. What was funny, he was rebuked and made fun of for hiring some goof from Northern Arizona, come out and coach in the Big East. I am glad it ended up working out for the University of Pittsburgh.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

UCLA vs. Western Kentucky Post-Game Press Conference Notes


Ben Howland
James Keefe


THE MODERATOR: Coach, if you'd offer a few comments.

COACH HOWLAND: Well, that was another exciting game for all the Bruin fans out there. I want to keep you guys awake and on the edge of your seat, so you're welcome.
But, seriously, Western Kentucky did a great job of speeding up the game in the second half. We did a poor job in the second half at times in our shot selection when we were up 15, up 17, up 18. And we gave them the ball back when they would come down and score.

We got in foul trouble there and they got to the line early. But I thought at the end we showed some poise, even with Darren fouling out and with two of our starters with four fouls each in Westbrook and Shipp. We did make some silly fouls we would like to avoid in the future.

I thought James here had a really great career game thus far. We're expecting more, James.

But 18-12 is a nice game. For those of you who don't know, he had his shoulder surgery this past -- when was it? What month was that? July? August? August. So he was out for four, five months with a shoulder. Came back in mid-December. I decided at that time because we were healthy with Roll we were going to red shirt this guy. When Roll went down, we brought him off his red shirt so it was an emotional roller coaster for James. But his parents were supportive. He was supportive because he wanted to do what was best for the team.

It is kind of fun to see a guy that does the right things, get rewarded by having the game of his life here and helping his team get on to the next round of the Elite Eight.

Q. Given where you were in December, how does this feel to come in and have a night like this tonight?

JAMES KEEFE: I mean, this is why I came back, you know? In December, it was rough red shirting and seeing my team play, wish I was out there. And then coming back, but this is why I came back, you know? We had foul trouble and you needed depth to go far into this tournament. And it was great that worked out.

Q. There was foul trouble which obviously is why your minutes increased. Did Ben indicate to you going into the game because of the size advantage in the post that you may be playing a little bit more?

JAMES KEEFE: I mean, we have great big guys. We have five big guys that can play any amount of minutes depending on foul trouble. I mean, with that depth, we just trade off who plays, who doesn't.

Q. I'm just wondering if there is a point in this season after you came back and you started playing, it seemed like you started a little slow, that you kind of started feeling a rhythm and like you were all the way back.

JAMES KEEFE: I wouldn't necessarily say there is a certain point, but, I mean, there are games that when I was in there, I felt great, you know, coming in, making things happen. And then sometimes it just wasn't there.

But especially in the post-season, it has been a good opportunity with some foul trouble, with the injury to Luc, which was a bad thing but kind of helped me get in there and get in the flow.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Howland.

Q. Coach, could you talk about finally finding that scoring option besides Collison, besides Love to finally help you guys without Keefe's points or Shipp?

COACH HOWLAND: I thought Shipp did a great job today. He hit the big 3 to give us a nice lead in the first half. If you look at his points, he had 14 points. Those were all -- he didn't get any free throws except one where he was purposely fouled in the last minute and a half. His 14 points were huge. I thought he made a lot of nice plays helping us against the pressure. It was nice to see him play so well.

You know, I'm sitting here and we just take it for granted, Kevin Love did have at 29 and 14, which sounds like a pretty good line to me. I thought Luc's minutes were critical. We did a good job defensively on Courtney Lee. He is 7-29. So that's pretty good defense.

Now, Brazelton is another story. He really took advantage and made 26 points, I think in the second half. So he was a problem for us.

But overall, our defense, especially in the first half, was incredible. 18% they shot in the first half. They ended up shooting 47 the second for a combined 34. And, again, we outboarded them by 15 rebounds. And a lot of their offensive rebounds were long rebounds because they take 24 3s against a team that don't zone a possession like us.
We were happy to get this one under our belt. Western Kentucky is good. I am just really pleased that we were able to finally get our composure when they were making that run at us. Obviously, we would like to have Darren in the lineup. This is the least amount of minutes Darren Collison has played the entire year.

Q. What was going through your mind when you're up 21 at halftime and seemed like they were dead, then all of a sudden 63-59? The momentum and the crowd and everything seemed to change?

COACH HOWLAND: I tried to impress upon our guys at halftime that they weren't giving up, they weren't going away. This is a team with a lot of fight, a lot of character, a lot of toughness.

And we really, again, made some poor decisions that helped fuel their come-back with some quick shots. I think when you look at some of the shots -- I won't have a chance, but some of our shots with big leads early in the second half were really ill advised and help lead their come-back by giving them the ball.

But, you know, you probably haven't watched us all year. This is very typical of us. We like to make things exciting, you know, make me lose hair (smiling).

It would have been a lot funner to actually have played as well as we did in the first half in the second half and had that kind of game going away. Against teams at this level, that's not going to happen. You're not going to see blowouts.

Q. Can you talk about the Hilltoppers, their full-court press seemed to give you a lot of trouble that second half?

COACH HOWLAND: I thought we got tentative instead of being attacking. When we attacked, we did a good job. We had a lot of opportunities in the first half. I am like an old-fashioned guy. I like the jump stop. You never see it in the NBA, so it is hard for the players to watch those guys and go "that's a great play."

But the old jump stop sure helps against teams that press and pressure. And they actually employ it very well. I think Brazelton, that coach, Darrin Horn, does a great job. They are a very fundamentally sound team.

Q. I was wondering if you had a chance at all to see much of the first game and what you think of the matchup against Xavier.

COACH HOWLAND: I have had no chance to see Xavier. I had my two best assistants being able to scout games, one with West Virginia, one with Xavier. Donny Daniels has them. Now it will be go home, digest them. This is kind of typical of a Pac-10 weekend now where you got to get it all done in one day and that's hard, especially since we have to come back here and spend an hour and a half with you guys. It makes it even more difficult.

But we'll do our best. I know Sean Miller because he is a graduate of Pitt University. I knew his father when he was the head coach at Pitt out at the high school Blackhawk, I think it's called. And Sean is a great guy. We have a mutual friend who we're both very close to, the trainer -- the current trainer at Pitt is a guy named Tony Salesi who is one of my best friends in the world.

It was funny, the other night -- I can't remember when it was. I think it was Sunday -- I called Tony and someone called me and I called him back and Sean was just on the phone with him. So Sean was a great point guard at the University of Pittsburgh. He's been and had worked for some great coaches along the way. They're very, very well-coached. I recruited Drew Lavender. He visited Pitt when I was head coach there. I know how good he is.

They're very, very sound. They play great man-to-man defense. We've got our hands full. We understand that.


Love and Keefe Help UCLA Hold Off Western Kentucky

By KS Wong
Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

Top-seed UCLA gave up a 21 point halftime lead before hanging on to a 88-78 victory to advance to the West Region Final, Elite 8, on Saturday against Xavier.

In the first half, the Bruins put on a basketball clinic holding Western Kentucky to just 20 points on a meager 18.8% field goal shooting. Russell Westbrook and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute held Hilltopper leading scorer Courtney Lee to just 2 of 13 shooting. On the offensive end, UCLA abused them in the paint as the Bruins scored 24 of its 41 first half points from close range, finishing with a 51.6% shooting clip.

However, a regulation college basketball game is 40 minutes long, and unfortunately for the Bruins, they seemingly forgot there was still 20 minutes left when they entered intermission with a 41-20 lead.

UCLA came out in the second half without any sign of focus or intensity.

Western Kentucky scored two quick uncontested lay-ups as the Bruins perimeter defenders became lackadaisical and the rotations down low, specifically Kevin Love, were too slow switching.

Coach Ben Howland, sensing early trouble, called a quick time-out to get into the ear of his young players. Unfortunately, they took no heed to his words.

The Hilltoppers went on to score 58 points in the second-half --- the Bruin defense had allowed opponents an average of 58.2 points in an ENTIRE game this season.

Western Kentucky cut the margin to just four points with six minutes remaining in the game but the Bruins were able to hold them off, mainly by hitting from the foul line, making their last 14 of 16 free throws to hold off the charging Hilltoppers.

While some might point to the Hilltoppers fullcourt press that sparked their rally, in reality it was UCLA unfocused play that led to turnovers and sloppy play.

UCLA's backcourt picked up quick fouls in the half. Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, and Josh Shipp played with four fouls for much of the second half with Collison fouling out with still over five minutes remaining. Some might blame the referees for calling some unwarranted fouls, but really it was a result of the Bruins not playing aggressive on the defensive end, reaching instead of moving.

No...the second-half collapse was not on the refs. The Bruin players need to shoulder the blame for their own play in this one.

A matter of fact, Western Kentucky had more personal fouls, 24, called on them versus UCLA's 22.

Fortunately for UCLA, it had too much of an advantage down low with Kevin Love, and a surprising contributor in sophomore James Keefe.

Love finished with 29 points on 10 of 14 shooting and 14 rebounds. He scored at will inside and was key to the Bruins breaking the Hilltoppers press, especially in the opening half.

While Love's stellar line is practically a given in every game he plays, Keefe's contributions were a much needed shot in the arm. The sophomore recorded his first double-double, scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. He cleaned up a lot of Bruin misses, hauling down 6 offensive rebounds and putting them back in.

Keefe played 26 minutes and played a key role especially when Collison fouled out. With a lack of depth in the backcourt, Keefe's play allowed the Bruins to play Mbah a Moute at small forward and to guard Courtney Lee down the stretch which allowed them to protect Westbrook from picking up another foul.

Westbrook also finished with a double-double, 14 points and 11 rebounds. Josh Shipp finished with 14 points, including a three-point shot as the shot clock expired with four minutes in the game to give the Bruins a nine-point lead the Hilltoppers could not overcome.

The Bruins will now face No.3 seed Xavier on Saturday for the West Region championship and a chance to advance to their third consecutive Final Four. Although the UCLA players will likely have this Western Kentucky game, especially their subpar second half play, on their minds for awhile.

(photo credit: AP)


UCLA Advances To Elite 8

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score | AP Recap

UCLA 88 - Western Kentucky 78

(photo credit: AP)


Bruins Cruise To Elite 8

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score | AP Recap

UCLA 53 - Western Kentucky 49

(photo credit: AP)


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Press Conference Notes: Coach Howland and Players at Sweet 16


March 26, 2008

Darren Collison
Ben Howland
Kevin Love
Luc Richard Mbah A Moute


THE MODERATOR: We're being joined by the UCLA student-athletes.

Q. Kevin, you and Mr. Collison provide a lot of the offense. Can you talk about how maybe you need to spread it around or why that has been the case in the recent few games?

KEVIN LOVE: I will let my elder go first. Go ahead, Darren.

DARREN COLLISON: The plays are just designed for us where we had an advantage to take it upon ourselves. A couple of times we caught up with the pick-and-roll action. It was me and Kevin. I am point guard. I was supposed to create first. If I don't have it from my teammates, I will create for myself.

Kevin usually has a good position down low. It doesn't mean I can't spread it out to Josh and the rest of them who are very good shooters and Luc Richard. We have a lot of different options. They are plays designed for ourselves and we took advantage of that.

KEVIN LOVE: I agree with what Darren said. A lot of the plays are spread between us. We did score 40 out of 53 points, but we didn't even notice that until you guys touched on it after the game. Like he said, we can spread it around. Josh will start knocking down shots. He has been shooting the ball great all week. Luc's ankle is back to 100%. And Russell as well has been shooting the ball well in practice.

Q. Luc, can you talk about how you're feeling right now? I know -- I don't know if you are still recovering or how comfortable you feel out there and how comforting you are playing Thursday.

LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: I'm coming back to 100%, obviously. As far as the pain, my ankle -- the pain is less. I don't feel as much pain. And the swelling went down.

If I had to give a percentage, I would say 90, 95% hopefully by tomorrow. But I will be ready to go. I was a little rusty having not played for a week and a half. I am looking forward to coming out tomorrow and play our best against a very good team.

Q. For Kevin, can you sort of talk about the freshmen season college basketball and whether it's been what you thought it would be and with some of the outside distractions and what happened at Oregon and stuff like that, has it been what you thought? Has it been more?

KEVIN LOVE: It has been a lot of fun. Ever since I got to L.A. in July, my teammates just took me in. It has been everything I wanted it to be, even more. The school is a lot of fun, being around my teammates, being around the family environment at UCLA has been everything I expected. And touching on Oregon, that was just very controversial there, but I just kept my head high and didn't feed into anything the crowd was doing. My family was fine and we came out with a W.

Overall, the freshman season has been a lot of fun and I am having a lot of fun in college as well.

Q. Did you see where the dude who sort of gestured towards you got his car taken away by his dad? Have you heard about this?

KEVIN LOVE: I have not.

Q. The kid who sort of gave you the double whammy at Oregon, his dad saw a picture, recognized his son as a kid doing that to you and took away the kid's car.


Q. Yeah. Your reaction?

KEVIN LOVE: Karma is a -- and you can fill in the blank with that one (laughter). That's all I can really say about that.

Q. Darren, all these close calls you guys have had, how has that made you not likely to take people for granted, take games for granted? You're supposed to win this game. How have those experiences you have been through make you say, Anything can happen to us?

DARREN COLLISON: Coming from one of the best conference, the Pac-10 conference, every game down the stretch was a close game for us. Everybody is going to give it their best shot. There were a lot of times trying to get into the tourney at the time. So we got the team's best shots going into the tourney. Coming into the NCAA tournament, anybody can lose. You see the top teams losing to the bottom seed teams. You got to play at your best.

Like Coach said, right now seeds don't really matter. We can't overlook anybody. We just want to win. No matter how close the game is, we just want to win and get the W.

Q. The Texas A&M game, how was that in reinforcing a team like this, you can't figure you're going to beat a team just because they are seeded lower.

DARREN COLLISON: Texas A&M was a very good team. They grinded it out every possession. They got good looks. They didn't play like an 8 seed. That's what we have to understand. No matter what the seedings are, we have to play against a team that will give it their best shot.

We just want to win. No matter how we do it, we just want to get the W, close call or not. We just want to win.

Q. Against Texas A&M, I think it was late in the second half, it was tied and you kind of shot a twisting turnaround jumper that seemed like it was going to be from 10 feet that was maybe by 15 feet by the time you released it. For most people that's a low-percentage shot. Is that something that -- I mean, where does your confidence come to shoot a shot like that in a moment that big?

KEVIN LOVE: I had talked to Darren the night before. He told me the minute you think you are going to lose, you will lose the game. I felt in my mind, I kept the calmness and Darren kept talking to me whether it was on the sideline when we had a time-out or in the locker room at halftime. I just kept calm.

That shot I shot, you know, thousands and thousands of times over the course of the season in high school. I used to shoot that shot all the time. That was my training from Oregon. Usually I put it off the glass. From the angle I was at, I wanted to just try to put it in and it went down for me and I was thankful for it.

Q. Can you talk about your defense? You are known as the defensive team, and what's Kentucky's premise of a face-paced offense, they like to run. What do you do to slow them down or combat the offense? They jack it up any time they want to.

LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: I mean, just going back to our principles. I mean, the whole season we faced teams like that in the Pac-10 a lot. Talking about Oregon, Arizona, teams like that. Transition defense is going to be key. Darren stopping the ball and making sure we are running back with their bigs.

Once we get to the half-court set, just make sure we're executing. Always the same principle. We have to win the battle of the boards. That's it.

DARREN COLLISON: Like Luc said, it is just following the rules all along. Coach been emphasizing defense since day one of practice and we have been doing it -- for the most part, we have been consistent with it. I think our defense starts our offense. We are a defensive team, like you said, and we are really active on the ball and cause a hang for other players and getting steals and have an easy point in transition. That gets us flowing on the offensive bit. When we do our defensive roles, we should be all right.

KEVIN LOVE: These both guys mostly said it. We worked on it a lot in practice this week, they running jump on ball screens. They press a lot. That's just something that we had to work on our out-of-bounds plays from full court and just beating traps, beating certain things like that.

Every time we cross half court in practice, we'd trap the ball screens and we'd trap the first pass so that's just something we had to work on. We know they will be pressuring us because they are a very good team.

Q. For Darren, which would you rather play? A team that slows it down like Texas A&M or the team that speeds it up like this?

DARREN COLLISON: The team that speeds it up. You know the answer to that one. A team that speeds it up. It is a lot of fun when we play a team that speeds it up, because there is a lot of easy points in transition and we are going up and down. We are not always walking up the ball and the other team is not walking up the ball.

Whenever a team slows it down -- not to say we can't slow in the half-court set -- it makes it a little bit boring, for the fans themselves, not that I care about the opinions, but it makes it more fun for us as well.

KEVIN LOVE: Darren said it.

THE MODERATOR: We have been joined by UCLA head coach Ben Howland.

COACH HOWLAND: We're excited to be playing. This time of the year there is only 16 teams left. I don't think that any game that's won or lost over the next two days will be considered an upset. All these teams are so even, I think it's really indicative of the parity in college basketball.

And we know we have our hands full with Western Kentucky. They're a very good team. Very sound fundamentally and very well-coached and they present a lot of problems at both ends of the floor.

Q. The end of the Texas A&M game, what now appears to be a foul, at the time a lot of people didn't see it, what was your reaction when you saw it? Does it matter? Also, you seem to have gotten several breaks by officials at the end of games. How do you guys -- I mean, obviously it is a good thing for you.

COACH HOWLAND: I don't think any one call decides a game. If you go back and watch the entire game, is any one call more important than any other call? If you were at the game or you evaluate the game -- see, as coaches we always evaluate the game by watching the film over and over.

I'm really proud of our team the way we've come back. But we're not worried about anything that's said. We're just still here, happy to be playing.

Q. Is there anything to be taken from the fact that you have been getting so much scoring from just two guys? Is that a concern? Or is that just the way it's worked out? How should we take that?

COACH HOWLAND: That happened in the last game. That's not been consistent throughout the year. I think if you look at our averages, I think we have four players that average in double figures and then one that's just under at about 9 points plus per game. So pretty good balance.

Q. (Off microphone.)

COACH HOWLAND: For us, we -- I think you are a much easier team to defend if you only have two games. In the Texas A&M game, as you pointed out, 40 of our 51 points were scored by Kevin and Darren.

Q. Coach, how many minutes do you expect Luc to play? And how confident are you that he is healthy enough? He had some rust in the last game. How comfortable are you that he is healthy enough to play like he usually does?

COACH HOWLAND: He has practiced the last two games. And we had a long practice yesterday for this time of year, probably about 1 hour 40 minutes, 1 hour 45 minutes. Practiced again today. He was very good today and tomorrow and now he will go again through the shooting. I think it has helped his timing.

Obviously when you miss a week where you don't play and get thrown out into the game at a high level like it is in the NCAA tournament it is difficult. And he definitely was rusty in the A&M game. I didn't want to chance getting reinjured in the first round because we felt we had a good chance to win without him. But we know at this point, without Luc playing major minutes, it is going to be very rough for us to advance. He has been a three-year starter. He is an integral part of what we do at both ends of the floor.

I expect him to play, hoping that he doesn't get in any kind of foul trouble, at least 30 minutes tomorrow.

Q. Could you sort of talk about Kevin's season and how -- with all the media attention and outside hoopla he's gotten, how he's handled it?

COACH HOWLAND: He has really been special as a player. He's averaged a double-double, I think in actual double-doubles per game he has 23, 24 of them. Double figures in every game, in all 36. He's really improved. And our last game against A&M, which was the biggest game of the year because if we don't win we're not here today, he had seven blocks.

Now leading up to that game, he had 40 blocks in the previous 35 games. So he has really raised his level of play as we've gone into these huge games, especially towards the end of our season. But his skill level for a kid his size is really incredible.

At 6' 9", 260 pounds, his ability to pass, see the floor, all the little nuances of passing that are so special, he's the best passing big guy that, you know, I've ever been close to or seen.

Then when you combine it with all the hoopla coming into the year, being the national player of the year, coming out of high school, all the expectations to cover of "Sports Illustrated," the huge articles in ESPN, the magazine, "Sporting News," et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, just all the attention, it really has been amazing how he's handled it so well. It is like he is a seasoned veteran and he is a senior in college and has been around for a long time as opposed to a 19-year-old kid who is going through his first year of college.

Q. You just mentioned all of Kevin's talents. In what ways do you look at him at times and you can say, okay, yeah, he is just a freshman?

COACH HOWLAND: When I am listening to him recite rap music this morning as he is getting taped in the meeting room and how he's fooling around with his teammates all the time and is just one of the kids. Just his playfulness and great personality.

I mean, he's definitely got -- he's very mature but, yet, he's still young at heart. And that's nice that he's handled it all well and, really, it has been spectacular.

I have never been around anybody who's received as much attention as he has, especially for maybe Coach Wooden. At least at 97, he has had a little experience of dealing with it as opposed to 19.

Q. When you were hired, there was sort of a philosophical debate that went around Los Angeles that said, will L.A. embrace a team that doesn't -- you know, that isn't show time, that doesn't go up and down? It seems every year, well, Josh will be back from injury and they will play more uptempo. They have Kevin and they will be more uptempo. It seems like you have been embraced. Can you talk about that philosophy a few years later, how you have been embraced and the players have knowledge that they have to play defense for you. Can you reflect on that?

COACH HOWLAND: I think we're second in the league this year, first of all, in scoring offense if you look at the stats in the Pac-10. And I am very proud of how our team performs and how they compete and how they play. At the end of the day, I think people embrace winning more than any aspect of a team. And that's been truly the case for UCLA in the last three years.

We really feel good about the support that we receive from the local community and obviously our students and fans and alums, and so I'm very excited that they feel so good about our program and are excited about how we represent them, not only on the floor but the type of kids that we have and how they represent UCLA off the floor.

We have quality young men that are good students, good human beings, good out in the community, very, very friendly to everybody. And that's important to me and I think very important to the typical UCLA fan and alum.

Q. I'm wondering how important it is for you to set tempo and pace early and what you can do to kind of establish the pace that you want in that game.

COACH HOWLAND: Well, we don't want them to run up and down on us from a defensive standpoint. And they're very capable of running the ball because of the little quick point guard Brazelton. They really push it. They run the floor. They fill the lane. So we got to do a good job in transition getting back. And then we've got to do a good job attacking their presses. We want to be able to handle the ball and take care of it.

They're a very good team. Again, I was speaking earlier in the other room that I was watching Tennessee film for the first time late last night, early this morning. And really impressed with how well they played against an outstanding Tennessee team. I mean, Tennessee is a team that obviously has been there all year and has been ranked number one. They're right there. It is a one-point game with two minutes to go. That game could have gone either way December 22nd. And I think it was played in Nashville. Really, really impressed.

So they're a team, as is any team that's left in this tournament right now, that can beat anybody. We know if we don't play our very best tomorrow, it will be our last game of the year.

Q. How much have all these close encounters that you've had made you ready for this kind of competition and in terms of your confidence and poise no matter what the situation?

COACH HOWLAND: This team has been through a lot of close games, not only late this season but the last three years. We've won more than we lost in close games. And I think that's the sign of a good team and a good program.

These kids, they believe themselves. They have no quit in them. They never seem to get rattled. We were down 10 against Texas A&M with 17 minutes to go and came back and found a way. We were down 14 or 16 against Stanford at home late in the year. We were down to USC 8 or 10 in the semifinals, down 6 in the finals of our conference tournament. So we've had a lot of close games. Down to Cal late in the game and won it on a miraculous last-second shot by Josh Shipp.

These kids have a real strong belief in each other, in themselves and they know the game's never over either way until it is 0:00, that we have to close games out when we do have a lead late in the game.

Q. You must think referees are doing a heck of a job this year down the stretch.

COACH HOWLAND: I think that the officiating and the job of officiating is always difficult. It's always prone to human error. You know they're going to make mistakes throughout the game. And I always try to keep my cool and not react when we get a bad call that goes against us.

And it is interesting that there seems like that there's been an idea that there's some kind of conspiracy theory that's helping UCLA with the officials. I hope that's true, but I assure you that it's not.

(photo credit: AP)


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

UCLA vs. Western Kentucky - Tourney Game Preview

By KS Wong
Bruin Basketball Report

Top-seed UCLA, playing in its third consecutive Sweet 16, takes on No.12 seed Western Kentucky on Thursday in a Western Region semifinal match-up in Phoenix Arizona.

The Bruins rallied behind freshman Kevin Love's 19 points and 11 rebounds to defeat a tough Texas A&M team, 51-49, on Saturday to advance to the next round.

One of the Cinderella stories of the tourney this year, Western Kentucky is making its first NCAA tournament appearance in five years. They upset No.5 seed Drake, 101-99, in the first round when guard Ty Rogers hit a 26-footer at the buzzer. In the second round, the Hilltoppers defeated No.13 seed University of San Diego, 72-63, to advance to the Sweet 16 behind senior Courtney Lee's 29 points.

The Hilltoppers (29-6) earned an NCAA bid after winning the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship. They had finished behind South Alabama during regular season conference play.

In nonconference play this year, the Hilltoppers narrowly missed a chance at signature wins earlier in the season, losing by three points to Gonzaga and bowing to Tennessee by six. They did defeat Michigan in Ann Arbor, 73-69.

Although known for its offense prowess this season, Western Kentucky is also an excellent defensive club. They will typically press full-court and double-team at almost every opportunity in order to create turnovers or pressure teams into speeding into a pace they're not comfortable with.

The Hilltoppers allowed just 66.1 points per game while holding opponents to just 42.1% field goal shooting. They average almost eight steals and force opponents into over 18 turnovers per contest. The Hilltoppers forced turnovers on 24 percent of opponents' possessions, 12th best in the nation.

It will be interesting if Western Kentucky employs its press against UCLA or if it'll be successful. The Bruins are difficult to press against since they have multiple good ballhandlers on the floor in Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, and Josh Shipp, and a good passing big man in Kevin Love who can pass over the top of presses.

While the Hilltoppers will attempt to speed up the pace of the game, UCLA Coach Ben Howland will counter by controlling the tempo with a disciplined halfcourt set.

In addition, the Bruins have a huge advantage in the low post with Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute underneath. No doubt, UCLA will try to score in transition when the opportunity arises, however, they will attempt to get the ball inside as often as possible for the high percentage shot.

Mbah a Moute had an MRI on his left ankle Monday and the test results came back negative yesterday.

Western Kentucky is pin-point accurate from three-point distance. As a team, they shoot 40% on three-pointers, and four players shoot over 40% from beyond the arc. The Hilltoppers score 77.3 points per game on 47.6% shooting from the field.

The team is led by an experienced, senior backcourt of Courtney Lee, Tyrone Brazelton, and Ty Rogers.

The Hilltoppers' offense usually culminates in a spectacular play by senior star Courtney Lee (6'5, 200, Sr). A superb shot creator who's polished his game over the past four years to become a probable NBA draft pick this summer, Lee was named the Sun Belt Conference player of the year

Lee leads the team in scoring with 20.5 points on 49% field goal shooting and 40.4% from beyond the arc. He also knows how to get to the foul line often where he's a deadly 82.5%.

UCLA's Russell Westbrook will get the opportunity to lock down Lee first, although Mbah a Moute will likely get the opportunity as well. Perhaps the best way to defend Lee is to deny him the ball, since once he gets it in his hands, he is very difficult to stop.

Coach Ben Howland calls WKU's point guard Tyrone Brazelton (6'0, 180, Sr) the quickest guard the Bruins have faced all season. He is usually the one getting the ball to Lee, but he also has a solid pull up jumper out to the three-point arc.

Brazelton averages 13.9 points and hits on 41.7% of his three-pointers. He is also very good scoring or dishing out to teammates off the dribble. Darren Collison will have a tough challenge keeping Brazelton in front of him. Collison has been burned by quick, physical penetrating guards at times this season.

The Hilltoppers will no doubt spread the floor with their three-point snipers, and if Collison is unable to control Brazelton's dribble penetration, the Bruins will have a difficult time on the defensive end tomorrow. Recall, Washington's Justin Dentmon did a similar number on Collison in the Huskies' upset win against UCLA in Seattle this season.

The team's third senior guard is Ty Rogers (6'3, 195, Sr). He is another deadly shooter from the perimeter, hitting on 37.4% on his three-pointers. Rogers is the type of player who always finds himself around the ball and is a solid defender.

Josh Shipp will be matched-up against Rogers. Shipp is recovering from a strep throat infection. He worked hard earlier this week with Coach Howland to improve his three-point shot. Shipp was held scoreless in the last game against Texas A&M and the Bruins will definitely need production from him on Thursday.

Jeremy Evans (6'9, 190, So) starts at one forward spot, a long, rail-thin player, he is effective out to the three-point line. Evans shoots 42.1% from beyond the arc. He also leads the team in rebounding with 5.2 a game and averages 1.5 blocked shots.

At the other forward position is D.J Magley (6'9, 260, Fr) who will likely start off guarding UCLA's Kevin Love. However, Magley tends to be foul prone ,and unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, they are very thin up front. They only have Boris Siakam (6'7, 225, Sr) in the rotation to back-up Magley.

While Western Kentucky lacks depth in size, they have no shortage of three-point shooters coming off the bench with A.J Slaughter (6'3, 180, So) and Orlando Mendez-Valdez (6'1, 180, Jr). Slaughter, the team's third leading scorer at 7.8 points, shoots 44% on three-pointers and Mendez-Valdez hits on 39.4%.

Not surprisingly, a third of the Hilltoppers' shot attempts are three-pointers. UCLA will need to do a solid job closing out on shooters since almost everyone on the floor for Western Kentucky will be proficient long-range shooters. In addition, the Bruins will need to do a good job stopping dribble penetration by Brazelton who is very good at kicking out to the open shooter on the perimeter.

UCLA has the obvious size and talent advantage over Western Kentucky, however, the key to the game will be tempo. If UCLA is able to control the tempo of the game with its defensive pressure, and on the offensive end, getting the ball inside to the bigs, they should win. But this is a very talented and experienced Western Kentucky team, and as it showed against Drake, they know how to win.

Game Snapshot
NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
UCLA vs Western Kentucky
Time: 6:40PM
Place: U.S. Airways Center, Phoenix
Radio: AM 570

(photo credit: WKU Athletics)


Monday, March 24, 2008

Mbah a Moute Has MRI On Ankle, Shipp Taking Antibiotics

By KS Wong
Bruin Basketball Report

At a press conference Monday afternoon, UCLA Coach Ben Howland announced forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was set to undergo an MRI on his sprained left ankle.

"His ankle was swollen and I would say pretty severely swollen yesterday," Howland said. "I was surprised and a little bit down by it. He’s going to have an MRI today just to make sure everything is okay, but we don’t anticipate any issues. Barring any unforseen abnormality in the MRI, I’m sure that Luc will gut it out and play."

Mbah a Moute had just 2 points on 1 of 4 shooting and six turnovers against Texas A&M on Saturday. Howland indicated that perhaps Mbah a Moute's play was off since he hadn't seen action in over a week.

"It hurt his timing that he hadn't practiced," Howland said. "His rebounding, defense and double-teams created a lot of havoc that helped us. I don't think we can advance much further without him."

Howland also reported junior Josh Shipp was recovering from a strep throat infection. He was given antibiotics for his strept throat after Saturday's game. Against Texas A&M, Shipp was 0 for 4 from the field and was scoreless in 37 minutes, however, he came up with a key block on the Aggies' final possession to help preserve the win for UCLA.

"He’s feeling better today. Whether he was affected by his strep throat, I don’t know that, but definitely, it’s not a healthy thing," Howland said. "He just played through it."

Although the team did not practice on Sunday or Monday, Coach Howland worked with Shipp on his outside shooting. Shipp has been in a prolonged shooting slump from beyond the arc.

"He and I spent about an hour and 15 minutes today shooting," Howland said. "He took 325 shots, about 200 of them game shots. We’ll do some extra shooting tomorrow. But he shot it great today so I was very encouraged by that. I would say half were three-point shots. He was 91 for 100 on free throws, we shot free throws in between each round. He was going really hard."

Against Texas A&M, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Josh Shipp and guard Russell Westbrook were a combined 3 for 18 shooting while Darren Collison and Kevin Love accounted for 75% of the team's offensive output. However, Howland wasn't too worried and expected his other players to step up in the next game.

"That's an aberration," Howland said. "We want to get more production out of our other three starters."

Top seed UCLA (33-3) plays No.12 seed Western Kentucky (29-6) Thursday night in the NCAA tournament regional semifinals in Phoenix.

(photo credit: J Rosenfeld)


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bruin Recruiting: Prep News Roundup (3/24)

By Bruin Basketball Report

Prep News Roundup is published every Monday.


Jrue Holiday is an accommodating guy. He signs every autograph, doles out wristbands and gives away just about every award he's ever received to some lucky kid. So when Holiday was officially named 2007-08 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year during a ceremony in North Hollywood, Calif., on Wednesday, was there any chance he'd part ways with what is arguably the nation's most prestigious honor in high school sports? “Most definitely not,” said a soft-spoken and smiling Holiday. RISE Magazine 3/19

Best of the best from the SF Valley/North region: Player of the Year: Jrue Holiday (Campbell Hall) Sr. -- No-brainer pick here. UCLA-bound guard was unstoppable in leading Vikings to third state title in four years. He averaged 25.3 points, 12.1 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 4.6 steals and 2.4 blocks a game. LA Times 3/19

In my 13 years at the paper, I have never seen a preps debate that’s harder to decide than this: Should Drew Gordon be on the All-Mercury News first team? Our winter sports high school section will be in Sunday’s paper, and we still can’t decide. What do you think? Nobody’s crazy enough to argue that the Mitty senior isn’t the best basketball player in the Central Coast Section. When UCLA and everyone else wants a guy from Santa Clara County, that tends to draw some attention around here. It’s no exaggeration at all to call Gordon the best basketball prospect in Santa Clara County in 30 or 40 years, since Kurt Rambis at Cupertino in the 1970s or the Ogdens (Lincoln High) and Dennis Awtrey (Blackford) in the ’60s. Mercury News 3/19

McDonald's Sunday Practice: Two likely starters Jrue Holiday of the West and Tyreke Evans of the East didn't make it to Milwaukee in time for practice because of flight complications. In their absence, both squads practiced with what appeared to be a first team. For the West the first five consisted of Brandon Jennings at the one, Malcolm Lee at the two, DeRozan at the three, Monroe at the four and B.J. Mullens at the five. Rivals 3/23


North Carolina-bound point guard Larry Drew Jr. of Woodland Hills Taft has been selected the City Section player of the year in boys' basketball by a panel of sportswriters....The first-team All-City selections: Renardo Sidney, Fairfax, Jr.; Justin Hawkins, Taft, Jr.; Eugene Phelps, Taft, Sr.; Tony Freeland, Fremont, Jr.; Laron Armstead, Fremont, Sr.; Dominique O'Connor, Westchester, Jr.; Oscar Bellfield, Westchester, Sr.; Chris Solomon, Fairfax, Sr.; Nigel Carter, Dorsey, Sr.; Jarred Dubois, Westchester, Sr. LA Times 3/19

Andy Shannon of El Camino and Brendan Lane of Rocklin will compete for Team USA in the Albert Schweitzer basketball tournament next week in Mannheim, Germany....Shannon and Lane are 6-foot-10 centers, though Lane also can shoot three-point baskets. A senior, Shannon helped lead El Camino to a No. 1 seed in the Northern California Division III playoffs, and Lane was instrumental in the Thunder winning the Division II section championship. A junior, Lane is a national recruit. Sac Bee 3/19

Think of the great University of San Diego High basketball teams when the Waltons played for the Dons. Then recall how good the St. Augustine teams were in the same era. Now combine the two rosters and you have Compton Dominguez, L.A. Fairfax or Santa Ana Mater Dei. “A player like (San Diego's) Jeremy Tyler is great and he might have one or two players around him, but not like the Los Angeles Section or Southern Section teams that go 10 deep.” San Diego Union Tribune 3/19

Pinewood Prep junior Milton Jennings has been named the Gatorade South Carolina boys' basketball player of the year. Jennings is one of the top prospects in the country for 2009 and is getting recruited from coast to coast. He has narrowed his list to five schools: Clemson, South Carolina, UCLA, Georgetown and Florida. He could announce his decision soon after Pinewood Prep resumes classes after spring break. Jennings, a 6-9, 210-pound power forward, averaged 18.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.2 blocked shots this season to lead the Panthers to a 27-4 record and their third straight SCISA Class AAA state championship. Charleston Post Courier 3/20

Mayo could be the first in a parade of one-and-done players at USC, with DeRozan coming in next season and possibly Fairfax High center Renardo Sidney for the 2009-2010 season. Sidney has said he would attend college in California and appears to have narrowed his choices to USC and UCLA. LA Times 3/20

Thabeet's departure and potential transfers could open up more scholarships to be filled, perhaps, by guard Nate Miles and a post player. Miles still hopes to gain academic clearance from the NCAA, and UConn is focusing its big-man recruiting efforts on Ater Majok, a 6-10 forward/center from Sudan via Australia. Majok will make an official visit in April. Courant 3/23

(photo credit RISE Magazine)