March 4, 2006
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) - A drenched Ben Howland rattled off everything UCLA did well to win the Pac-10: stingy defense, heads-up passing, unselfishness on and off the court.
The Bruins can now savor the conference championship all alone.
Arron Afflalo led four players in double figures with 16 points and No. 15 UCLA captured its first conference title in nine years Saturday with a 75-54 victory against Stanford, securing the top seed in next week's Pac-10 tournament.
UCLA will open Pac-10 Tournament play on Thursday at 2:50 p.m. against the winner of Wednesday night's game between Arizona State and Oregon State.
"I'm so happy for our guys," said Howland, the third-year coach credited for turning around a storied program that reached national prominence under Hall of Famer John Wooden. "I'm most glad we're Pac-10 champions. We decided it ourselves. We don't have to wait for anybody and get in backdoor. Any time you win a championship it's special."
Jordan Farmar added 13 points and seven assists, Ryan Hollins had 13 points and eight rebounds, while Luc Richard Mbah a Moute contributed 12 points and nine rebounds. Michael Roll hit three 3-pointers for nine points, and UCLA rode its impressive defense to an emotional win that disappointed the raucous, sold-out crowd of 7,334 in Maples Pavilion.
UCLA (24-6, 14-4 Pac-10) had already clinched a share of its first conference regular-season title since 1997 with Thursday night's 67-58 overtime win at California.
This is the Bruins' eighth league crown overall and they won it outright by sweeping the season series from Stanford for the first time since 1995 - the year of UCLA's last NCAA title in coach Jim Harrick's second-to-last season at the school. The team's lone loss that year came at Oregon.
Dan Grunfeld scored 14 points and Anthony Goods 12 for sloppy Stanford (15-12, 11-7), which now probably must win next week's conference tournament to earn an NCAA bid and avoid ending a streak of 11 straight trips to the tournament.
The Cardinal received an at-large berth with 18 wins last season - though they played a more difficult schedule and some of their losses came to prestigious teams such as Michigan State, Louisville and Tennessee.
Stanford pulled within nine points on a 3-pointer by Lawrence Hill with 12:25 left, but couldn't get closer. Howland emptied his bench with 1:12 to play and the Bruins celebrated mildly when the final buzzer sounded before heading to the locker room.
That's when the players poured the water cooler over Howland, soaking his blue collared shirt and matching tie.
"That's the way you want it - you want to control your own destiny," Afflalo said. "We've played some tough games, some NCAA-type games."
UCLA didn't even have to wait on the result of Washington's game at Arizona later in the day. Had the Bruins lost, they needed Washington to lose in Tucson to win outright.
The Bruins beat Stanford 71-54 in Los Angeles on Dec. 29 to end a six-game losing streak to the Cardinal and eight-game skid in Pauley Pavilion. UCLA hadn't won in Maples Pavilion since a 95-92 victory Feb. 23, 2002.
The game marked the last home contest for Chris Hernandez, Grunfeld, Jason Haas and Matt Haryasz - though the Cardinal still could host an NIT game. The seniors were honored in a pregame ceremony that featured video highlights of their careers.
"We're realistic," Grunfeld said. "The NIT is probably in the back of our minds, but it doesn't do any good to speculate at this point. We just know we have to go out and play hard every time."
Hernandez didn't score his first basket until Stanford's first possession of the second half after taking just one shot and committing four turnovers to one assist in 11 minutes of action in the first half. But he picked up his third foul at the 17:44 mark of the second half.
Haryasz, 0-for-5 in the first half, made his first field goal moments after Hernandez's made basket. He finished with eight points and Hernandez had nine.
"I can't remember a team that's come in here and beat us as handily as that team did," Cardinal coach Trent Johnson said. "This was by far the best team we faced this year. They took Matt away, made Chris work and they made more shots."
Stanford took a 5-0 lead and UCLA started the game 0-for-3, but the Cardinal committed eight turnovers in the opening six minutes and the Bruins took advantage with a 19-4 spurt. Stanford struggled to take shots against the Bruins' pressure man defense - managing only eight shots in the first 10 1/2 minutes.
UCLA led 38-24 at the break and held Stanford to 35 percent from the field (7-for-20).