Villanova pummels UCLA, 89-69
The end came quietly, far from the howling crowd, in a locker room with players strewn across chairs and benches like walking wounded.
A season that had begun with so many expectations -- maybe too many -- ended with heads down and ice bags strapped to knees and Darren Collison picking at his postgame sandwich with a fat, bloodied lip.
“They just flat-out beat us,” he said.
That simply, the UCLA point guard and his team limped out of the NCAA tournament on Saturday, bullied by Villanova in a second-round loss that was even more lopsided than the 89-69 score suggested.
The Bruins were outshot and outrebounded before a sold-out crowd dressed mainly in blue -- that would be Villanova blue -- at the Wachovia Center. They had too many turnovers and, according to some players, not enough grit.
“We came out with no heart,” guard Jrue Holiday said. “We just didn’t come out and play today.”
They also ran head-on into a team that was talented and physical, the Wildcats announcing their presence early when UCLA swingman Josh Shipp drove to the basket and got hammered.
“It’s something we take pride in, not letting a team just come down the lane and start dunking the ball,” said Villanova forward Dante Cunningham, who was called for a foul on the play.
Everyone expected the third-seeded Wildcats, a product of the Big East, to be tough. They also brought quickness on offense, an ability to penetrate and break down sixth-seeded UCLA’s defense.
That led to 46 points in the paint and allowed the guards to kick out to teammates for open three-point shots. If the Wildcats missed their first try, far too often they got to the boards for another.
“They had a lot of wide-open threes and a lot of second chances,” Holiday said.
If nothing else, Villanova (28-7) went straight for the weaknesses in a Bruins team that started the season awash in fours -- a No. 4 ranking, hopes of reaching a fourth consecutive Final Four -- but had lost three top players, including Kevin Love, to the NBA.
The game was close for only a few minutes before Cunningham, who finished with 18 points, scored two baskets to ignite a 19-2 run.
More trouble was on the way for the Bruins as center Alfred Aboya picked up three fouls and headed for the bench. Only Shipp, on his way to 18 points, kept them within striking distance, 44-31, at halftime.
The game figured to be an uphill battle for UCLA, and not only because it was played a short drive from the Villanova campus.
In a light practice Friday, players had trouble dealing with the Wildcats’ offense, freshman Malcolm Lee explaining that “when we had the dummies do it, they were getting wide open.”
Coach Ben Howland made no excuses, saying the partisan crowd wasn’t a deciding factor, that his team got “outcoached and outplayed.”
Asked if he might have done anything differently, Howland said he couldn’t pack his defense in the lane because then “they just get a head start running at you.”
He anticipated the inevitable question about why his team plays only man-to-man.
“We don’t zone,” he said. “So I’m not going to zone.”
The mood was optimistic at halftime, the Bruins figuring they couldn’t play much worse. They were wrong.
Holiday missed a couple of shots and had the ball stolen. Collison could not convert on a short jumper. The Wildcats were using an intense, switching defense to push their lead toward 25 points.
“We want to go after the ball, block shots, contest every shot,” Villanova Coach Jay Wright said.
Howland adjusted his lineup, giving freshmen Lee, Drew Gordon and Jerime Anderson minutes. The Bruins also began applying full-court pressure, desperate to climb back into the game.
But several players said they had not played that style of basketball enough this season to be effective.
By game’s end, six Villanova players had scored in double figures and the Wildcats held a rebounding advantage of 41-28 that included 16 offensive rebounds for 19 second-chance points.
In addition to Shipp’s scoring, the Bruins got 15 from Collison and 11 from Nikola Dragovic, shooting below their season average while allowing Villanova to make 46% of its shots.
All of which led to a somber locker room, the season ending with a 26-9 record. It was the last hurrah for Collison, Shipp and Aboya, who leave the program as the winningest senior class in UCLA history.
Collison, who caught an elbow in the mouth while playing defense, said it wasn’t much of a secret what had transpired.
“They were the more aggressive team,” he said. “And the more aggressive team is always going to win.”