UCLA Outlasts Kansas, 68-55, Headed Back To Final Four

March 24, 2007

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - Arron Afflalo will get a second chance to shine in the Final Four - and he earned it by seizing the spotlight when UCLA most needed its leader.

In an exceptional second half that should help erase memories of his past mediocrity in big games, Afflalo scored 15 of his 24 points and the Bruins held off top-seeded Kansas for a 68-55 victory Saturday night in the West Regional championship.

Afflalo also led the Bruins' usual stellar defense, and Darren Collison added 14 points and four big free throws in the final seconds. UCLA (30-5) made its halftime lead stand up in an appropriately tense meeting between two schools with rich traditions and a combined 29 Final Four appearances - including an NCAA-record 17th for UCLA next week in Atlanta.

The Bruins, who lost to Florida in last season's national title game, could be in for a rematch: They'll meet Sunday's winner of the Gators' regional final against Oregon.

"It feels good," Collison said. "We felt that we didn't finish the job last year, so we're going to enjoy this moment, and then go back and try to finish it."

Brandon Rush scored 18 points for the Jayhawks, the first No. 1 seed to be eliminated from the tournament. Their 14-game winning streak also was snapped in the school's first NCAA tournament loss in California, where this game had a decided home-court feel for the Bruins.

Afflalo's teammates surrounded him in celebration after the buzzer, and the pro-UCLA crowd chanted "One more year!" at the smiling junior as he pulled on a commemorative T-shirt and hat.

Though Kansas (33-5) is loaded with star talent, the second-seeded Bruins returned with several major contributors to last season's run. That experience showed in every pressure-packed possession of a matchup between two teams that began the season with the Final Four as their only acceptable destination.

"I think we beat ourselves, but I have to give credit to their defense," said Rush, among several Jayhawks soon to be considering jumps to the NBA. "They made us force a lot of turnovers and made us give it to them."

Afflalo likely felt more pressure than anyone: The Pac-10 player of the year, Afflalo had a dismaying habit of disappearing in big games.

Afflalo struggled in both of the Bruins' Final Four contests last season, scoring a combined 19 points against LSU and Florida. He managed just three points in this season's conference tournament loss to California, and he was ineffective for long stretches of the Bruins' last two victories in the NCAA tournament.

He had no such trouble this time, hitting a series of clutch baskets with a dwindling shot clock in the second half as UCLA nursed a lead.

Whenever the Bruins faced offensive trouble, Afflalo solved it - with a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 10 minutes to play, or an acrobatic driving layup with 7 1/2 minutes left. Collison chipped in with another 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 4:43 left.

UCLA then scored six straight points on free throws before Luc Richard Mbah a Moute's celebratory dunk with 24 seconds to play.

The Bruins edged ahead of North Carolina in Final Four appearances. The Tar Heels have 16 going into Sunday's East Regional final against Georgetown.

UCLA has never lost to Kansas in five NCAA tournament meetings. UCLA also has back-to-back 30-win seasons for the first time since 1972-73.

Kansas coach Bill Self has failed to win a regional final in four tries at three different schools - although this season's result was much more impressive than the Jayhawks' consecutive first-round exits in the previous two seasons.

The San Jose Sharks' hockey rink was filled with Bruins fans, both from the big Bay Area alumni base and those who made the drive north from Westwood. UCLA fed off the support and coach Ben Howland's usual bombastic, foot-stomping performance on the sideline, playing with remarkable defensive energy.

The clubs traded the lead through a predictably close first half. UCLA held Kansas scoreless in a 3 1/2-minute stretch shortly before halftime and made a 14-4 run to take a 35-31 lead when Josh Shipp hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Shipp, who missed last season's UCLA run because of hip surgery, pumped his fist and bumped chests with Afflalo as they headed to the locker room behind the Bruins band.

UCLA then opened the second half with an 11-4 run, taking an 11-point lead with just over 13 minutes left.

UCLA Health Sponsor - Event Information
Friday, Oct 30
vs. Cal State Los ...
Los Angeles, CA
W, 95 - 57
Friday, Nov 13
vs. Monmouth
Los Angeles, CA
L, 81 - 84 (OT)
Sunday, Nov 15
vs. Cal Poly
Los Angeles, CA
W, 88 - 83
Thursday, Nov 19
vs. Pepperdine
Los Angeles, CA
W, 81 - 67
Monday, Nov 23
vs. UNLV
Lahaina, HI
W, 77 - 75
Tuesday, Nov 24
vs. Kansas
Lahaina, HI
L, 73 - 92
Wednesday, Nov 25
vs. Wake Forest
Lahaina, HI
L, 77 - 80
Sunday, Nov 29 - 4:00 PM PST
vs. CSUN
Los Angeles, CA
Thursday, Dec 03 - 6:00 PM PST
vs. Kentucky
Los Angeles, CA
Sunday, Dec 06 - 6:00 PM PST
vs. Long Beach State
Los Angeles, CA
Saturday, Dec 12 - 7:00 PM PST
at Gonzaga
Spokane, WA
Tuesday, Dec 15 - 6:00 PM PST
vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Los Angeles, CA
Saturday, Dec 19 - 10:00 AM PST
vs. North Carolina
Brooklyn, NY
Tuesday, Dec 22 - 8:00 PM PST
vs. McNeese State
Los Angeles, CA
Friday, Jan 01 - 8:00 PM PST
at Washington
Seattle, WA
Sunday, Jan 03 - 6:30 PM PST
at Washington State
Pullman, WA
Thursday, Jan 07 - 6:00 PM PST
vs. Arizona
Los Angeles, CA
Saturday, Jan 09 - 2:00 PM PST
vs. Arizona State
Los Angeles, CA
Wednesday, Jan 13 - 8:00 PM PST
vs. USC
Los Angeles, CA
Wednesday, Jan 20 - 8:00 PM PST
at Oregon State
Corvallis, OR
Saturday, Jan 23 - 1:00 PM PST
at Oregon
Eugene, OR
Thursday, Jan 28 - 7:00 PM PST
vs. Washington
Los Angeles, CA
Saturday, Jan 30 - 4:00 PM PST
vs. Washington State
Los Angeles, CA
Thursday, Feb 04 - 7:30 PM PST
at USC
Los Angeles, CA
Friday, Feb 12 - 6:00 PM PST
at Arizona
Tucson, AZ
Sunday, Feb 14 - 5:30 PM PST
at Arizona State
Tempe, AZ
Thursday, Feb 18 - 7:00 PM PST
vs. Utah
Los Angeles, CA
Saturday, Feb 20 - 8:00 PM PST
vs. Colorado
Los Angeles, CA
Thursday, Feb 25 - 6:00 PM PST
at California
Berkeley, CA