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Freshman Does Heavy Lifting
INDIANAPOLIS — They were waving the flag of Cameroon for freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in the UCLA pep band section Saturday.
He gave them plenty of reason to keep the banners fluttering.
On a floor dotted with NBA prospects and McDonald's All-Americans, the freshman from Cameroon who has been playing for only five years was at times the best player on the floor.
"You know, I told him at the beginning of the year how good he was going to be. He doesn't even know it," said point guard Jordan Farmar.
"That's the scary part. He has no clue."
Maybe not, but everyone else does, after a 17-point, nine-rebound performance by Mbah a Moute that was perhaps exceeded only by his defensive work against Louisiana State's Glen Davis in UCLA's 59-45 NCAA semifinal victory Saturday in the RCA Dome.
Against the 6-foot-9, 310-pound behemoth they call Big Baby, Mbah a Moute was the man.
"My back hurts right now," Mbah a Moute said.
"He's big. I mean, he's going to be in the NBA. He's a great player. I mean, he does great things for a guy of his size. To move the way he moves, he's a great player."
Davis had him by nearly 100 pounds, but the 6-7, 224-pound Mbah a Moute did his job with a little help from his friends.
"It takes effort — effort and toughness," Mbah a Moute said. "I think my teammates did a great job tonight helping me in the post, whether it was just rotating for a steal or pressuring the ball so he wouldn't get catches and stuff."
Davis tipped his hat after finishing with 14 points and seven rebounds, making only five of 17 shots before he fouled out late in the game.
"I think 'Moute' did a great job," Davis said. "He was real active. He's relentless on the boards. You know, he has a high level of potential being so young."
Mbah a Moute helped UCLA get going early, with 12 points, six rebounds, two steals and an assist in the first half, and he had two big dunks early in the second to help make it clear the Bruins weren't going to fold.
"I just got going, a couple of steals, a dunk," Mbah a Moute said. "I just had it."
UCLA Coach Ben Howland glanced at the stat sheet.
"Let's see, 17 and nine. Those are pretty good numbers," he said. "He is a very, very good player."
Cedric Bozeman, the Bruins' fifth-year senior, concurred.
"The sky's the limit for him," he said. "He's a freshman who's playing like a senior. And he's a great listener. I think that's the best thing about him. He takes it all in. He doesn't get caught up in individual things, that's the best part. It's all about team."
Whether his parents, both traveling in Europe, knew what he had done yet, Mbah a Moute wasn't sure.
"My father is in France. My mother is in Geneva," he said. "They probably will see the replay [today] or Monday."
At home in Cameroon, where many of his friends monitor UCLA's games by Internet, the interest in Monday's championship game between UCLA and Florida is probably growing — and not only because of Mbah a Moute.
A name more famous than his in Cameroon will be on the back of a Florida jersey.
The Gators' 6-foot-11 star Joakim Noah is the son of a Cameroonian national hero, Yannick Noah, who was born in France but spent much of his youth in Cameroon.
"Basketball is not that popular in Cameroon. Most people play soccer," Mbah a Moute said.
"[But the name Noah] is very big. People are going to want to watch it because of the name. And because they know about me playing."