OAKLAND, Calif. - Before rushing to cut down the nets, UCLA’s players and coaches stayed on the podium and led their fans in a popular school cheer.
That’s right, the Bruins are back. College basketball’s most storied program is going to the Final Four again. Arron Afflalo, coach Ben Howland and the rest of the Bruins have returned UCLA to the lofty level of its glory years.
Afflalo scored 15 points and shut down Memphis leading scorer Rodney Carney, helping No. 2 seed UCLA defeat the top-seeded Tigers 50-45 Saturday and earn a trip to Indianapolis for its first Final Four appearance since the school’s 1995 NCAA championship.
“This is special and this is a special group of guys,” UCLA senior Cedric Bozeman said. “We play defense. That’s what we do. We didn’t let them walk over us.”
Ryan Hollins added 14 points, nine rebounds and drew two charges on defense as the cold-shooting Bruins won their 11th straight game to capture the Oakland Regional in the lowest-scoring regional final since the shot-clock era began in 1986.
UCLA (31-6) will play in next Saturday’s semifinals against LSU, a 70-60 overtime winner over Texas in the Atlanta Regional final earlier in the day.
The Bruins have 11 national titles — more than any other school — 10 under Hall of Fame coach John Wooden starting in the mid-1960s. They are making their 16th Final Four appearance, tying North Carolina for the most ever.
“This program is where it is right now, as the greatest tradition in all of college basketball, the greatest history in all of college basketball,” Howland said. “Eleven national championships. It all starts with Coach Wooden. ...
“I think our team embodies the spirit of what Coach is all about, which is teamwork, which is unselfish play, which is a commitment at both ends of the floor to play together.”
After the final buzzer Saturday, the ecstatic Bruins quickly pulled on new T-shirts and hats. Hollins cradled the regional’s Most Outstanding Player trophy with his right arm while Darren Collison climbed the ladder to be the first to clip the net.
“At UCLA, no other banners but national championships go up,” Bruins point guard Jordan Farmar said. “We haven’t really done anything in the eyes of UCLA and UCLA fans.”
Darius Washington Jr. scored 13 points to lead the Tigers (33-4), who saw their seven-game winning streak end along with the career of Carney, a possible NBA lottery pick who hoped to play his final game in his hometown of Indianapolis for the Final Four.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
As both teams expected, this wasn’t nearly the high-scoring game they played last time, when Memphis won 88-80 behind 26 points from Shawne Williams in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT in November at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
The 88 points are the most UCLA’s defense has allowed this season and Williams’ 26 the highest individual performance against the Bruins.
Defense has become the Bruins’ trademark, a stark contrast from the last time UCLA won the title. The ’95 Bruins beat Connecticut 102-96 in the regional final in an up-and-down game. These Bruins aren’t even close to the offensive juggernaut of that ’95 team with Ed O’Bannon and Tyus Edney.
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Eight is great
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