No. 13 UCLA 71, Arizona 59
LOS ANGELES (AP)—Ben Howland has always stressed a hard-nosed approach and the importance of playing tough defense. As he nears the end of his third year as UCLA’s coach, it’s apparent the Bruins realize what he requires from them.
Freshman Darren Collison scored a career-high 15 points, sophomore Arron Afflalo and freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute added 12 each, and the 13th-ranked Bruins took command early in the second half to beat Arizona 71-59 Friday night in the Pac-10 tournament semifinals.
“Guys are understanding what it takes to play championship basketball,” senior center Ryan Hollins said. “Our intensity’s definitely stepped up. Our thing is to pressure the ball and be aggressive.”
The Bruins put the game away by outscoring the Wildcats 27-12 to start the second half for a 60-38 lead. The Wildcats hurt themselves by committing five of their 15 turnovers and shooting 5-of-19 during that stretch.
“We had a seven-point lead at the half, but then we came back out and got off to an unbelievable start against an NCAA tournament team,” Howland said. “And although we won by 12, the score is not indicative of the fact that we were pretty much in control the last 16, 17 minutes of this game. It was really fun.
“You want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the season. But not only are we playing good, we’re getting better. This is truly a team.”
The top-seeded Bruins (26-6) will play California for the championship Saturday and the automatic berth in the NCAA tournament that goes with it. Cal held off Oregon 91-87 in double overtime Friday night to reach the title game for the first time.
The Bruins bring a six-game winning streak into Saturday’s game, mainly because of their defense. They’ve limited the opposition to an average of just over 55 points per game since being beaten 71-68 by Southern California on Feb. 19.
“That’s what coach really emphasizes—defense,” Collison said. “On the defensive end, we did what we had to do.”
Arizona entered averaging 73.4 points per game. The Wildcats’ previous single-game low this season was 60 in a five-point win over California on Jan. 21. They had only 44 points before scoring 15 in the final 4:21—after the outcome was decided.
“There’s no question the better team won,” Arizona coach Lute Olson said. “They’re just a whole lot more physical than what we are. In the first half, we made a lot of mistakes. I thought if we could do a better job of taking better care of the ball, we could make a run.
“But UCLA’s just better. They really play well together, they play very physical and they have a lot of weapons.”
Despite losing, the Wildcats (19-12) seem assured of an invitation to their 22nd straight NCAA tournament. They need one victory to reach the 20-win milestone for the 19th consecutive season.
Freshman Marcus Williams led Arizona with a career-high 25 points and seven rebounds. Ivan Radenovic added 17 points and 10 rebounds. No other Wildcat scored more than five points.
Collison shot 6-of-10 including 2-of-3 from 3-point range. His previous career best was 12.
“Yeah, I’m a little surprised,” Collison said of leading the Bruins in scoring. “The coach told me to be aggressive and take it to the basket tonight.”
UCLA’s Cedric Bozeman started despite spraining his left ankle in the first half of Thursday night’s 79-47 victory over Oregon State. He had nine points in 27 minutes.
Jordan Farmar got in early foul trouble and had a rare off-night. The Bruins’ second-leading scorer had five points and six assists, and committed seven of his team’s 11 turnovers.
Mbah a Moute and Hollins had seven rebounds each for UCLA.
The win was UCLA’s third straight over Arizona this season. The Bruins swept the Wildcats for the first time since the 1996-97 season—the last time they won the regular-season championship before this year.
Arizona played without Hassan Adams, suspended for the tournament by coach Lute Olson after being arrested on suspicion of drunken driving last weekend.
The Wildcats were able to beat Stanford 73-68 in the quarterfinals without Adams, but clearly missed their leading scorer against the Bruins.
“He does a lot for us,” Arizona’s Mustafa Shakur said. “There were still things we didn’t do that we should have done.”
UCLA wound up shooting 28-of-56 (50 percent) while Arizona was 23-of-55 (41.8 percent).
Farmar picked up his second foul with 14:24 left before halftime and the Wildcats leading 11-10. With the sophomore guard on the bench, the Bruins turned up their defensive intensity, forcing several turnovers during a 16-3 run that put them ahead 26-14.
The Wildcats weren’t closer than five points after that.