March 18, 2006
SAN DIEGO (AP) - UCLA clanked free throws down the stretch, got outrebounded, missed more than half its shots from 3-point range and still won.
No one was more surprised than coach Ben Howland.
"All the stats went against us," he said. "To have everything go against us and still win, it's a testament to the kids."
Jordan Farmar scored 18 points, including five 3-pointers, Arron Afflalo had 13 points and Ryan Hollins 12 in a 62-59 victory over Alabama on Saturday that sent the Bruins to their first NCAA tournament regional since 2002.
No. 2 seed UCLA (29-6) will play third-seeded GONZAGA (29-3) in Oakland, trying to get back to the Final Four for the first time since their 1995 national championship.
"This is nothing new for UCLA," Howland said. "The standard is set. We're supposed to win every game, one at a time."
The Bruins hung on for their ninth consecutive victory despite missing seven of nine free throws down the stretch. They were outrebounded 30-21 and 25 of their 47 shots were from 3-point range.
"We've got to make our free throws and outboard our opponents if we're going to win any more games in this tournament," Howland said.
It wasn't supposed to be this tough for UCLA, coming off a 34-point win over Belmont in the first round.
But the Bruins were flustered by Alabama's zone in the first half, and it showed on the aggravated faces of Farmar and Afflalo.
"Jordan is a perfectionist, so everything that doesn't go right he wears on his sleeve," Howland said.
Ronald Steele scored 21 points for 10th-seeded Alabama (18-13), which had seven players available. Three players were walk-ons who didn't see action. Leading scorer Chuck Davis went down with a season-ending knee injury in January.
"We were 7-6, lost our best player and today we were a jump shot away from being in the sweet 16," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "I wouldn't do anything differently."
Twice in the final minute the Crimson Tide came within one point, but the Bruins had an answer.
"We felt like even though we were down, the game was still ours," Richard Hendrix said. "Even down to the last shot, we thought we'd cruise into the next round. Unfortunately, things didn't work out that way."
Alabama closed to 57-55 when Steele scored over Farmar in the lane with 2 minutes remaining. Farmar coughed up the ball into Steele's hands at the other end.
Steele got fouled and made one of two, putting Alabama within one with a minute to play.
Afflalo got loose and launched a 3-pointer, keeping UCLA ahead 60-56 with 34 seconds left. He was scoreless in the first half.
"I was definitely aware I had a horrendous first half, but I'm just glad my teammates knew they could still count on me," he said.
Darren Collison fouled Steele on a 3-point attempt, and he made all three - the first two rolling around before falling in - to get Alabama to 60-59 with 21 seconds remaining.
Freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute got fouled and made one of two for UCLA for a 61-59 lead.
Steele's jumper at the top of the key with Afflalo defending him fell short - a shot he'd made in clutch situations all season.
"He cut me off on the initial move to the basket, but I got free and it felt good when it left my hand," Steele said. "I had a good look at it and just didn't make the shot."
Fifth-year senior Cedric Bozeman grabbed the rebound with four-tenths of a second left, got fouled and made one of two before the buzzer ended Alabama's upset hopes.
Alabama tied the game at 38 on three straight points by Hendrix and Jean Felix's basket off a steal.
Then Farmar hit his fifth 3-pointer, launching UCLA on a 15-7 run that equaled its largest lead, 53-45, since the start of the game. Afflalo made two 3-pointers and converted a fastbreak layup off Collison's steal in the spurt, when Hollins and Jermareo Davidson picked up their fourth fouls.
"We're a team that needs to avoid foul trouble," Gottfried said. "It hurt our ability to score. That was a big factor."
Then, Farmar and Afflalo had to sit down with their fourth and third fouls, respectively, leaving Collison to run the offense.
The Bruins opened the game perfectly, hitting their first five shots, including three consecutive 3-pointers by Farmar, for an 11-4 lead.
But after Hollins dunked off Farmar's alley-oop pass, the Crimson Tide switched to a zone that forced UCLA into a mistake-prone stretch. The Bruins ran the shot clock down to its final seconds while struggling to find a shot they liked, resulting in airballs and turnovers.
Alabama took its first lead midway through the half on an inside basket by Hendrix. Neither team led by more than four points before Steele hit two free throws for a 30-all tie at the break.
Dressed like he could staff a rental car counter, Gottfried wore his old-school red jacket again, but lost in it for the first time since donning it late in the regular season.
Gottfried started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at UCLA, where he was on the staff for the Bruins' record 11th national championship in 1995.
"I wouldn't do anything differently," he said. "I'd put the ball back in Ron Steele's hands down two. He makes that shot all the time."
The Bruins' latest victory came in the same city where John Wooden retired after coaching UCLA to its 10th NCAA title in 1975.