March 25, 2006
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - The most storied program in college basketball is back in the Final Four.
Afflalo scored 15 points and shut down Memphis leading scorer Rodney Carney, helping No. 2 seed UCLA defeat the top-seeded Tigers 50-45 Saturday and earn a trip to Indianapolis for its first Final Four appearance since the school's 1995 NCAA championship.
Ryan Hollins added 14 points, nine rebounds and drew two charges on defense as the cold-shooting Bruins won their 11th straight game to capture the Oakland Regional in the lowest-scoring regional final since the shot-clock era began in 1986.
"This is special and this is a special group of guys," UCLA senior Cedric Bozeman said. "We play defense. That's what we do. We didn't let them walk over us."
UCLA (31-6) will play in next Saturday's semifinals against LSU, a 70-60 overtime winner over Texas in the Atlanta Regional final earlier in the day.
The Bruins have 11 national titles - more than any other school - 10 under Hall of Fame coach John Wooden starting in the mid-1960s. They are making their 16th Final Four appearance, tying North Carolina for the most ever.
After the final buzzer Saturday, the ecstatic Bruins quickly pulled on new T-shirts and hats. Hollins cradled the regional's Most Outstanding Player trophy with his right arm while Darren Collison climbed the ladder to be the first to cut the net.
Darius Washington Jr. scored 13 points to lead the Tigers (33-4), who saw their seven-game winning streak end along with the career of Carney, a possible NBA lottery pick who hoped to play his final game in his hometown of Indianapolis for the Final Four.
As both teams expected, this wasn't nearly the high-scoring game they played last time, when Memphis won 88-80 behind 26 points from Shawne Williams in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT in November at New York's Madison Square Garden.
The 88 points are the most UCLA's defense has allowed this season and Williams' 26 the highest individual performance against the Bruins.
Defense has become the Bruins' trademark, a stark contrast from the last time UCLA won the title. The '95 Bruins beat Connecticut 102-96 in the regional final in an up-and-down game. These Bruins aren't even close to the offensive juggernaut of that '95 team with Ed O'Bannon and Tyus Edney.
"We never got going offensively but they didn't either," Bruins point guard Jordan Farmar said. "I know I didn't do anything special offensively, but I'm the happiest guy on the planet."
Memphis' only field goal in the first 8:24 of the second half Saturday didn't even go in the basket. Washington got credit for the points on a goaltending call.
UCLA got this far by surviving close games, and this time by surviving serious free-throw woes. The Bruins, 20-of-39 at the line, pulled off an improbable 73-71 comeback win over Gonzaga in the third round after beating Alabama 62-59 in their second NCAA game. UCLA rallied from nine points down in the final 3:27 to beat the Zags.
The hyper Howland, who has turned around the program in three years, slid along his bench all game. He even raised his arms in the air late as a call for the fans to get more involved in the program's first final eight appearance since 1997.
Close to three-quarters of the fans in the sold-out crowd sported Bruins' baby blue and yellow, including former UCLA great Bill Walton.
Memphis shot 2-for-17 on 3-pointers and Carney was held to five points on 2-for-12 shooting in his final college game. Afflalo swarmed Carney at every chance, only two days after defending national scoring leader Adam Morrison.
Carney knelt in the circle at midcourt after the final buzzer. A teammate tried to console him, and Carney motioned him away while workers began to set up for UCLA's ceremony.
The Pac-10 regular-season and tournament champion Bruins acknowledged they hadn't seen a team as athletic as Memphis, then outplayed the Tigers all game. It was the first true test of the tournament for Memphis after three straight 16-point victories.
Hollins, one of the seniors who was part of the program's trying times, scored five straight points in one first-half stretch in which he also blocked a shot and took a charge to draw the first foul on Williams. Hollins drew another offensive foul on Williams late in the half.
Memphis, which won the Conference USA regular-season and tournament crowns and reached the regional final for the first time since 1992, started the game 1-for-13. The Tigers were 5-of-23 at one point and missed all 10 of their first-half 3-point tries.
The Bruins crashed the boards to create second and third chances on offense, and passed the ball with precision. About the only thing UCLA didn't do right early was make free throws - shooting 6-of-17 at the line in the first half - 1-of-7 by Hollins. He missed his first two attempts in the second half, too.
When Afflalo made two free throws with 14:12 to play, he received a standing ovation. Soon after, the chants of "U-C-L-A!" began from every corner of the arena.
The Bruins went 8 1/2 minutes without a field goal late in the first half before Afflalo's baseline 3 contributed to a 28-21 halftime lead.
Memphis coach John Calipari has produced 20-win seasons in each of his six years at the school but failed to become the 13th person to lead two or more schools to the Final Four. Calipari took Massachusetts to the Final Four in 1996, and the Minutemen lost to Kentucky in the semifinals.