March 15, 2008
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Running pick-and-roll plays like the two-time Final Four veteran he is, Darren Collison guided No. 3 UCLA through its fourth close call in a week.
Collison scored 28 points playing all 40 minutes and the Bruins beat 11th-ranked Stanford 67-64 to win the Pac-10 tournament title Saturday.
"I felt real confident," he said. "They had a hard time stopping the pick-and-roll. That was a big key for us, so we kept going to it."
The Bruins (31-3) used a 22-8 run in the second half to earn their 10th victory in a row and add the title to their third consecutive regular-season crown. They swept Stanford in the regular season, including an overtime win last week to clinch the league title.
"To be able to beat Stanford three times in a row is incredible," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "I think they have the ability to be a Final Four team. I'm glad they're not in our bracket anymore."
Brook Lopez scored 15 points and Anthony Goods added 13 for the Cardinal (26-7), which was going for their first league tourney title since 2004. They've won nine of 13 heading into the NCAA tournament.
"We took arguably the best team in the country down to the wire twice in the last week," said Trent Johnson, the Pac-10 coach of the year. "Tough, tough, tough."
This time, the Bruins beat the Cardinal at their own game, winning the rebound battle 43-35, including a 21-5 offensive edge.
That seemed unlikely after Luc Richard Mbah a Moute went down with a sprained ankle Friday and freshman center Kevin Love had back spasms in the first half. Love finished under his average with six rebounds, but he was picked up by Russell Westbrook's career-high 11 and Josh Shipp's nine.
"It was just effort," Shipp said. "We did a lot of rotating."
UCLA led by 10 with 2 minutes remaining before Stanford whittled its deficit to 65-64 on a dunk by Lawrence Hill with 3 seconds to go. The Cardinal fouled Collison, who made both for a three-point cushion. He was named tournament MVP.
Goods' jumper hit the backboard wide right at the buzzer.
"It's definitely hard to take, especially when you work so hard," he said.
Love scored 12 points, giving him double figures in all 34 games he's played this season. The Pac-10 player and freshman of the year was hit with back spasms in the game's first four minutes. He frequently bent over and clutched his right lower back while grimacing in pain.
"The first time I touched the ball, I felt a pull in my back," he said. "It was that way the whole first half. I couldn't get any lift. Everytime I went up, I felt it was going to pull again."
But Love appeared revived in the second half, his grimace replaced by an occasional smile.
"Now it's hurting," he said afterward, "but come tournament time, I'll be fine."
Tied at halftime, Stanford opened the second half on an 11-7 run, a stretch dominated by the 7-foot Lopez twins. Brook scored five in a row and Robin scored over Love to give the Cardinal a 43-39 lead.
Collison steadied the Bruins with his defense at the same time he launched an 11-0 run with a jumper and ended it with a drive that propelled them to a 50-43 lead with 8:40 remaining.
Stanford scored five in a row to get within two before reserve James Keefe blocked Robin Lopez at Stanford's end and Love hit a 3-pointer for a 55-48 lead.
Collison's floater went in with 1 second on the shot clock and Love scored four in a row to cap the 22-8 spurt that produced UCLA's largest lead, 61-51, with 2 minutes to go.
Stanford outscored the Bruins 12-6 over the final 54 seconds only to lose.
"Maybe they just wanted it more than us," Brook Lopez said.
The Bruins went 4-of-8 from the line in that stretch, with Keefe missing two free throws, including airballing his second, with UCLA clinging to a three-point lead.
Collison dribbled like an old-school Globetrotter through the Cardinal's towering lineup down the stretch, driving or feeding the post or kicking the ball out.
"We broke down in key situations down the stretch," Johnson said. "In a game like this, it's just a possession here or there."
The Bruins surely know that.
They beat California by one point to end the regular season, then blew out the Golden Bears in the tourney quarterfinals before slipping by Southern California 57-54 in the semifinals.
"This is the best team I've played on," Collison said. "This is all we got and this is what we're going to go with."
He hopes all the way back to the Final Four.