UCLA's Ticket Punched to Indy

UCLA outslugs Memphis 50-45 in the Oakland Regional Final, earning a berth in the 2006 NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis, their 16th trip (tying an NCAA record) and setting up a semifinal contest with LSU.

TheUCLA Bruins stood on the sidelines and celebrated as Cedric Bozeman stepped to the free-throw line with 2 seconds left. UCLA led the Memphis Tigers, 49-45, but it was a war and not just a game that these Bruins had won to raise their record to 31-6 and win a place in the Final Four for the first time since 1995.

Two defensive giants slugged it out for 40 minutes and for most of those 40 minutes both teams struggled to score against the other, with the Bruins playing their intense, in-your-face man defense and the Tigers using their length and athleticism and overplay of their men and and pressure all over the court.

As I noted in game preview, the Memphis defense tends to form a hole in the middle, where the Memphis center is often left isolated one-on-one with his man. The Bruins took full advantage of this, posting up Ryan Hollins close to the basket and feeding the big man the ball early and often. Hollins quickly racked up 9 points and 4 rebounds matched up against a succession of Joey Dorsey, Robert Dozier and Kareem Cooper, and Lorenzo Mata added 4 points and 2 rebounds himself in the first half. Apart from a couple of 3s by Arron Afflalo, that was basically the UCLA offense, as Jordan Farmar, Afflalo and Bozeman failed in repeated efforts to beat the overplay by their men by taking the ball to the hole. Memphis's incredibly long athletes were able to recover and shut down the Bruins' attack, which often resulted in missed shots, turnovers and offensive fouls when it wasn't drawing fouls itself. The Bruins got 17 foul shots in the first half, but made only 6.

Still, it was enough for the Bruins to score 28 points in the first half. Meanwhile, the Bruin defense was holding the Tigers' to 26% shooting and 21 points in the first 20 minutes. The Bruins didn't do anything special; there are no gimmicks to their defense. They just spread out and got in front of their men and stayed there. As I also wrote in my preview, a key to this game would be if UCLA could force or encourage Memphis into settling for jumpers instead of driving to the basket. Memphis fired up 10 shots from behind the 3-point arc and missed them all. When they had the ball in the open floor off a Bruin turnover, Memphis was often moving too fast in its effort to beat the Bruins down the floor, resulting in numerous unforced turnover and missed layups for the Tigers. With the Bruin half-court defense not allowing any open looks, the Tigers seemed to get most of their points off put-backs and offensive rebounds.

The second half was just more of the same as both teams managed to clamp down on the other with great success. But with dribble penetration or passes into the post, the Bruins continued to draw fouls and Memphis stars Rodney Carney and Shawne Williams got in foul trouble and missed major chunks of playing time. As the Bruins ate up huge amounts of clock with each possession, the game seemed to flash by almost too swiftly as the Bruins' defense forced the high-scoring Memphis Tigers to play at a pace resembling their own. It took the Bruins 12:14 of the second half to score 12 points, but Memphis managed just 10 points in the same span. The Bruin defense simply refused to break, while Memphis continued to jack up 3s and turn the ball over.

With each possession (taking offense and defense together as one unit) taking more than a minute, the Bruins manufactured ways to score: Getting Arron Afflalo to the foul line for 6 straight free throws. Jordan Farmar slipping the ball to Alfred Aboya, who rolled to the basket after setting a screen. Another lob into Hollins for a dunk, followed by another lob into Hollins, enabling him to hit 1-2 from the FT line. UCLA held a tenuous 42-36 lead at the final TV timeout with 3:43 to play. It was now do or die time for both teams.

The Bruins did; the Tigers died. Jordan Farmar hit his only basket of the game, a fadeaway along the baseline at the 3:11 mark. A minute later, and Afflalo made another pair of free throws after drawing a foul off penetration. Suddenly, the Bruins were up by 7 and less than 2 minutes remained in the game. After another Memphis turnover, it became a foul shooting contest, with Ben Howlandbdesigning various plays to get the ball inbounds against the Memphis pressure and Ced Bozeman sinking 3 of his final 4 shots to give the Bruins the final 50-45 win.

The game stats tell the tale of the tape. UCLA made just 33.3% of its FGs, but Memphis shot just 30.9%, including 2-17 from 3. Memphis's vaunted athletes were barely able to control the glass, 39-36. Memphis made 18 turnovers; UCLA 17 (5 by Farmar and 4 by Collison, the UCLA point guards). UCLA's huge advantage was at the foul line, making just 20-39, compared to 9-15 for Memphis. All of the fouls on Memphis are easy to explain: Their overplay offense, if beaten off the dribble, will draw reaches and grabs. And Ryan Hollins was a 7-foot human wall inside, with Dorsey, Dozier and Cooper forced to play behind him when all they could often do to stop him on a shot or offensive rebound was to foul him from behind.

Afflalo led UCLA with 15 points, grabbed 3 rebounds and played great man d on Rodney Carney, the Memphis star who was held to just 5 points on 2-12 shooting with Afflalo in his face all night long. Hollins had 14 points, 9 rebounds, a block and a key steal down the stretch when there was still enough time for Memphis to come back and Hollins intercepted a cross-court pass from Darryl Washington to the streaking Carney. Hollins had 5 offensive rebounds for the game. Farmar finished with 4 points, 2 rebounds and 3 assists and was clearly bothered by the pressure d by much taller players. Darren Collison added 4 points, 2 rebounds and an assist and seemed more able to use his quickness than Farmar to penetrate inside the Memphis defense, but he made his share of mistakes as well. Lorenzo Mata, showing few signs that he missed so much time from a broken leg, had 4 points, 6 rebounds and a block. Alfred Aboya got 4 key points inside along with 2 rebounds. Bozeman scored all 3 of his points on those final foul shots and 3 rebounds. Luc Richard Mbah A Moute spent most of the game shading 6-9 Shawne Williams for most of the game and contributed 2 points and 7 rebounds while limiting Williams to 8 points on 2-9 shooting (Williams had 17 against the Bruins the last time these two teams played). Mike Roll got 2 excellent assists and added to the great defense played by the whole team.

Darius Washington led Memphis with 13 points. Significantly, as the point guard, he had 0 assists against 5 turnovers as Memphis resorted to one on one play for much of the game.

In the end, Ben Howland and his Bruins were able to impose their system and style of play on still one more opponent. Only two more remain.

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