March 11, 2006
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Three games of relentless defensive pressure culminated in UCLA's first Pac-10 tournament title since 1987.
Jordan Farmar led four players in double figures with 19 points and the 13th-ranked Bruins beat California 71-52 Saturday.
The Bruins (27-6), the regular-season champions for the first time since 1997, earned the conference's automatic NCAA bid - their second straight trip under coach Ben Howland.
"This is a great experience," said Farmar, who played in UCLA's first-round NCAA loss to Texas Tech last year.
Howland hopes the Bruins, on a seven-game winning streak, hop a bus and head down the interstate to San Diego for the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament.
"We're a 2 or 3 (seed). I think that's pretty certain," he said about the NCAA pairings, to be announced Sunday. "We won the Pac-10 conference any way you look at it outright in the regular season. We actually played all three of these games where it was pretty clear at the end of the game who was the best team, and it's a credit to these kids."
The Golden Bears (20-10) were led by Ayinda Ubaka with 18 points and Leon Powe with 17 points and eight rebounds in their first tourney final. They haven't won a conference title of any kind since 1960.
Cal's 52 points were the second-fewest in a title game, behind Stanford's 51 in 1989.
Powe scored 80 points in Cal's three games - second only to Reggie Miller's 83 in UCLA's run to the '87 tourney title.
"If I score a lot of points, or if I don't, I just want my team to win," Powe said. "But we just came up short, and that's the only thing that matters."
Thanks to another mighty offensive performance by Powe - the tourney MVP - the Bears threatened early in the second half, twice getting within one point.
Powe scored Cal's first six points of the half, then was shut out the rest of the game.
"Our interior defense doubling the ball was really good," Howland said. "To hold (Powe) to 17 and 8 (rebounds) is an incredible job by our team. He's a load, he's a great player."
They are the first team to hold three tournament opponents under 60 points. It was UCLA's third double-digit victory, having beaten Oregon State and Arizona in earlier rounds.
The Bruins blew nearly all of a 16-point, first-half lead before breaking the game open with a 24-8 run in the final 20 minutes.
"This team never, ever gets affected by it. They just continue to battle back," Howland said. "There's nothing that they haven't seen in terms of adversity that's going to bother them."
The second time Cal got within one in the second half, the Bruins ran off seven straight points to extend their lead to 43-35, even as Hollins and Mbah a Moute picked up their third fouls.
"Not really nerve-racking at all," Farmar said. "Just got to stay composed and do what we've been doing. If we play defense and rebound and play together, good things happen."
Powe turned the ball over, Farmar grabbed it and drove all the way to the basket for the score and a foul, but he missed the free throw. No matter, though, because Hollins dunked to keep the Bruins ahead 47-39.
Bozeman drove inside against Cal's beefy frontline, scored and got fouled. He made the free throw and Mbah a Moute hit a jumper on UCLA's next possession, pushing the Bruins' lead back to double digits for the first time in the half.
UCLA switched to man-to-man and continued double-teaming Powe. The Bears came up empty on three straight possessions before Hollins was called for goaltending, giving Cal its first basket in 4 1/2 minutes.
By then, the Bears trailed 54-43 and things quickly got worse. Farmar hit consecutive 3-pointers for a 60-43 lead with 4:42 remaining.
Ubaka and DeVon Hardin combined to score Cal's final 15 points.
The Bears cut a 16-point deficit to three on a 15-2 run that ended the first half. Powe had eight points and Ubaka seven while the Bruins' shooting went cold. Farmar missed three straight shots, Afflalo traveled and Lorenzo Mata turned the ball over on an offensive foul.
"We were down 16, but the defense got us back in the game," Ubaka said. "That's what kicked in and brought us back, but then we got away from that. We turned the ball over and they got easy opportunities on the other end and put it away again."
The Bruins' front court got into foul trouble, too, with two each on starters Mbah a Moute and Hollins and three on Alfred Aboya by halftime.
Before that, UCLA burst out of the gate with a 30-14 spurt as a result of attacking Cal with aggressive drives to the basket. Powe was limited to three points in the opening 17 minutes against a UCLA defense that double-teamed him.