March 22, 2007
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - The way UCLA and Pittsburgh play tenacious defense, the best way to score is when the opponent can't contest the shot.
That's just what Arron Afflalo and the Bruins did. Afflalo made all 10 of his free throws and UCLA shot 23-for-26 from the line to knock off the Panthers 64-55 Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals.
The game between coaching buddies Ben Howland of the Bruins and Jamie Dixon of the Panthers was played in the style they employed in their years together at Northern Arizona and Pitt. Nearly every shot was contested and neither team cracked 43 percent shooting from the field.
"We just wanted to keep control of the tempo and we did a good job of that all night long," UCLA point guard Darren Collison said. "It starts with our coach. He emphasizes defense all year long and we showed it pays to be physical."
The second-seeded Bruins (29-5) were able to win it at the line, scoring 12 of their final 18 points on foul shots to advance to play Kansas (33-4) in Saturday's regional final in a matchup of two of college basketball's most storied teams. The top-seeded Jayhawks beat Southern Illinois 61-58 in the first game in San Jose.
Third-seeded Pitt (29-8) cut a 12-point lead down to five when Levance Fields hit a pair of 3s and Ronald Ramon added another in an 88-second span, but Michael Roll's baseline jumper with 51.5 seconds left put the Bruins up 58-51.
Afflalo finished with 17 points despite going 3-for-11 from the floor in another poor shooting night. Josh Shipp added 16 and Collison had 12 as the Bruins advanced to regional finals in consecutive years for the first time since 1979-80.
"We haven't really pulled away," Afflalo said. "That team kept competing and they did a great job staying in the game. We were very fortunate tonight."
Ramon scored 12 points to lead the Panthers, who lost in the regional semifinals for the fourth time in six seasons. They haven't been to the round of eight since 1974, when it took only two wins to get there. Fields added 11 and Aaron Gray was held to 10 in his final college game.
The Panthers shot just 2-of-12 to open the second half, missing more than a dozen layups as UCLA's big men allowed nothing easy underneath. They never really threatened UCLA after that.
"We're very excited," Howland said. "We really thought our defense was outstanding again, particularly to hold them to 36 percent shooting and to outrebound them."
Shipp, who missed the Bruins' run to the title game a year ago because of a hip injury, hit two key 3-pointers early in the half. The rest was done at the foul line. Even Lorenzo Mata got into foul shooting rhythm, making a pair in the second half despite being a 37 percent foul shooter on the season. That got a big round of applause from the pro-Bruins crowd that filled the arena.
This matchup between coaches who are also best friends could only have happened in the NCAA tournament. The two have said they would never schedule a regular-season meeting because they saw no benefit to playing a close friend.
That didn't lessen the intensity a bit. Howland stalked the sideline with his knees bent in a defensive stance, arms in the air and screaming instructions as if he were the Bruins' sixth defender.
The relationship between the coaches runs deep, dating to when Howland recruited Dixon to play at UC Santa Barbara in the early 1980s. The two then worked together at UCSB, Northern Arizona and Pitt over the years before Howland left for UCLA following the 2002-03 season and Dixon replaced him.
"There were a few instances when I recognized the play calls and the motion that they were running," Afflalo said. "That probably worked to our advantage, but maybe they could say the same thing."
The Panthers opened the game 5-for-19 shooting, unable to get open looks against UCLA's stifling man-to-man defense. Pitt went more than 5 minutes without a field goal in one stretch, but only trailed by seven because of their own defense and ability to get to the foul line.
The Panthers made five of their final six shots of the half but still trailed 32-26 at the break when Afflalo scored five points in the final 2 minutes, including his first 3-pointer of the game with 1:14 to go in the half.