March 14, 2008
LOS ANGELES (AP) - UCLA took another opponent's best shot and barely survived.
Freshman Kevin Love scored 11 points in a 15-2 run to open the second half that propelled the Bruins (No. 2 ESPN/USA Today, No. 3 AP) to a 57-54 victory over Southern California in the Pac-10 tournament semifinals Friday night.
Love had 19 points and 10 rebounds for his 20th double-double in the first postseason meeting between crosstown rivals who've played 225 other times. They split in the regular season.
"That was a great win," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "We beat a really, really good team in USC. USC can make a huge, deep, long run in the NCAA tournament."
USC coach Tim Floyd returned the compliment, noting, "A lot of people are picking UCLA to win the national championship."
The Bruins (30-3) won their ninth in a row and advanced to Saturday's title game, where they will play either second-seeded Stanford or third-seeded Washington State.
UCLA became the third school in NCAA history to win 30 or more games in three straight seasons, joining Kentucky and Memphis.
Freshman O.J. Mayo led the fourth-seeded Trojans (21-11) with 15 points. Freshman Davon Jefferson added 12 points.
Mayo rallied the Trojans over the final 4 minutes, scoring seven in a row to close to 54-52. He fouled Darren Collison, who made one of two free throws to keep UCLA ahead 55-52 with 1:26 remaining.
Daniel Hackett got fouled, made both and USC drew within a point with 31.6 seconds left. The Trojans were forced to foul Collison, who made both for a 57-54 lead. Collison got poked in the eye and "made those two shots bleary-eyed," Howland said.
Mayo dribbled the clock down until putting up the potential game-tying 3-pointer over Josh Shipp with 2 seconds to go. It missed and Hackett rebounded, but couldn't get a shot off before time expired.
"I thought I made it," Mayo said. "It felt good coming off, just missed the shot. We played our hearts out and left everything on the floor and just came up short."
Mayo's clock-gobbling dribbling surprised Shipp.
"If he missed, you don't have any time to get another shot off," he said.
Howland added, "Josh did a smart thing not to foul him."
The Bruins overcame the loss of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who sprained his left ankle after coming down on Jefferson's foot with 6:11 remaining in the first half.
X-rays were negative and Mbah a Moute was on crutches, not a welcome sight for the junior who backs up Love on the boards. He had three points and one rebound in his short stint.
Howland said Mbah a Moute won't play Saturday. He re-injured the same ankle that sidelined him last month.
The Bruins trailed by four when Mbah a Moute went down and they closed within six at halftime.
They came out of the break a determined bunch. UCLA outscored USC 15-2 to start the final 20 minutes and take a 43-36 lead, the Bruins' first since early in the game.
"We knew they were going to make a run," Floyd said.
Love, the Pac-10 player and freshman of the year, dunked off a miss by James Keefe, then on successive plays he scored inside and got fouled, making both free throws. Keefe played most of his 23 minutes in Mbah a Moute's absence and proved an able defender.
Love capped the spurt with a 3-pointer, then bounced on his toes and chest-bumped with teammate Russell Westbrook going into a timeout.
"I just knew if we kept the run going we had a great chance to win," Love said. "Anytime you get on a run like that you're going to be pretty emotional."
After Taj Gibson picked up his fourth foul knocking Love down on the offensive end, Howland pumped both arms in a rare display of emotion by the intense coach.
The Trojans led 34-28 at halftime after contesting most of UCLA's shots. That flustered Bruins into shooting 10-of-28 from the floor and 2-of-9 from 3-point range after hitting 14 3s in a quarterfinal win against California.
Jefferson scored nine of USC's first 11 points. Keith Wilkinson hit consecutive 3-pointers for the Trojans' largest lead of eight before Mayo scored their final four points of the half.
"Whenever we get down, we have a never-quit attitude," Shipp said.