UCLA has calm way of winning
The UCLA Bruins were patient until the very end.
They held back their hoots and hollers, their well-earned celebration, until they were leaving Friel Court and heading into the tunnel.
It was then that Lorenzo Mata chest-bumped Ryan Wright, Josh Shipp screamed at no one in particular, and Arron Afflalo pounded his chest with his fists.
The No. 2 Bruins, with a 53-45 win over No. 13 Washington State, won their second consecutive outright Pacific 10 Conference title, allowing themselves two minutes of joy after 40 minutes of fierce competition.
UCLA (26-3, 15-2) won because it didn’t get flustered in the face of the nerve-racking patience that Washington State (23-6, 12-5) can force on its opponents.
For example, UCLA trailed by a point at halftime.
The Cougars’ passes were fast, from the fingertips. And then Washington State forward Daven Harmeling squared to shoot and faced no UCLA defenders. They had gotten dizzy tracking all those passes.
With 31 seconds left in the first half, Harmeling made an open three-point shot and for the first, and only time, the Cougars led. It was 23-22 and UCLA point guard Darren Collison missed a well-guarded layup at the buzzer.
“That made me mad,” Collison said. “You never want the home team to get the momentum.”
That would be the last advantage for Washington State. UCLA scored the first nine points of the second half and 11 of the first 13. Shipp scored first with a layup, Afflalo followed with a three-pointer. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute worked for another layup and then almost another. He was fouled and missed both free throws but 14 seconds later Shipp had an emphatic dunk.
UCLA pushed the lead to 47-37, but it dwindled slowly until Cougars forward Robbie Cowgill made a 20-footer to cut the Bruins’ edge to 47-43 with 3:20 left and bring the sellout crowd of 11,618 at Beasley Coliseum to its feet.
But Mac Hopson missed a three-point shot with 1:42 left and UCLA added to its lead by making free throws.
UCLA Coach Ben Howland praised his team’s defense -- it held Washington State to eight-of-28 shooting (28.6%) in the second half -- and the calm performance of Collison. The sophomore scored only seven points but had eight assists, two steals and only two turnovers.
“Collison had a fantastic second half,” Howland said. “He did a great job of running the team.”
Over and over Collison used screens and flipped passes to his interior players. Mbah a Moute had 10 points, all layups. Backup center Alfred Aboya had eight, including two right-handed hook shots. Afflalo had 14 points and was exhausted because of the way he defended Washington State guard Derrick Low.
Low, who averages 14 points, had two. He was one for eight from the field.
“It wasn’t just me,” Afflalo said. He noted that Michael Roll blocked one of Low’s shots and that Collison sometimes guarded Low. But it was Afflalo who did most of the work, hunkering down into his defensive stance, low and quick-footed. It’s tiring work and Afflalo always does it.
Kyle Weaver, who led the Cougars with 14 points, said it’s hard playing UCLA. “They don’t let our patience bother them,” he said. “They never rest. There’s a reason they are ranked No. 2 in the country.”
Afterward Howland’s suit was still dry and perfectly pressed. There was no Gatorade dousing and in the locker room there were a few perfunctory cheers. “We’re pretty humble,” Collison said. “We don’t want to rub anything in the other team’s face.”
And, besides, this was only a single game, a single step, a single goal achieved. “We’re focused on the Final Four,” Collison said. “We’re that good.”
At the right time of the season, the Bruins are still improving. “I hope we’re not at our best yet,” Afflalo said. “But we’re getting there.”
A day after five players -- freshmen Kevin Durant of Texas and Greg Oden of Ohio State plus sophomore forward Tyler Hansborough of North Carolina, junior forward Joakim Noah of Florida and senior forward Alando Tucker of Wisconsin -- were named finalists for the United States Basketball Writers Assn.’s Oscar Robertson Trophy, Afflalo was added as a sixth candidate.
When the USBWA sent out a news release Thursday with Afflalo’s name included there was also a suggestion. “IMPORTANT: If you have already voted for the Oscar Robertson Trophy and would like to change your vote, e-mail your district representative directly with your new vote.”
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UCLA clinched its second consecutive outright Pacific 10 Conference title after defeating Washington State on Thursday night. Schools with the most Pac-10 titles since 1979 (number in parentheses indicates shared titles and is included in the team total):
Oregon State...5 (2)
Source: Pacific 10 Conference
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