SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The Indiana Hoosiers wanted a game that hearkened back to the days of Four Corners offenses and set shots. They figured it was their only chance to stay with UCLA.
The Bruins also love a lot of defense, and the teams produced a game that only a coach could love — until a finish that punched a hole in the peach basket.
And Darren Collison finally made the decisive steal that shot UCLA into the next round of the NCAA tournament.
Collison scored 15 points and followed up Arron Afflalo’s go-ahead free throws by swiping the inbounds pass, leading UCLA to a 54-49 second-round victory Saturday night in the West Regional.
Collison’s bit of thievery was the highlight in a wall-to-wall defensive display by two of the nation’s grittiest clubs. UCLA led 20-13 after the excruciating first half, and didn’t make a field goal in the final 5:25 — but still hung on to play another round thanks to defense.
“You’ve got two defensive-minded teams,” Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Two teams that won’t give an inch. We wouldn’t budge. They wouldn’t budge.”
Afflalo, the Pac-10 player of the year, managed just 10 points for second-seeded UCLA (28-5), coming up empty along with his teammates when the Hoosiers desperately opened up their offense in the final minutes. Indiana tied it at 49 with a minute left after a 16-3 rally, but Afflalo and Collison finished it off with four free throws and one big steal.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game to play against a Big 10 team like that, but we showed we can play a lot of different ways,” Afflalo said. “We’re a versatile team, and we’re just grateful to be moving on.”
Awaiting Howland in the next round is a matchup with his old team, the Pitt Panthers.
“It’s exciting, because it means Pitt won,” Howland said before asking his wife to buy a ticket to San Jose for their daughter, a Pitt student.
“Their defense was pretty good,” Indiana’s Roderick Wilmont deadpanned. “They trapped our screens, but we had open looks we couldn’t hit. We found our groove in the second half, but it was too late.”
Afflalo, who scored 22 points in the opening-round victory over Weber State, reverted back to his ineffective form in the Pac-10 tournament. He blew at least one layup while missing nine of his 11 shots.
Indiana trailed 46-33 with 5:25 to play before Lance Stemler led the comeback, which UCLA helped with a shot-clock violation and two missed free throws. Stemler’s 3-pointer and Wilmont’s running jumper with 1:46 left but the Bruins’ lead to 47-45.
“They made some 3s, and that’s how they got back,” said UCLA’s Josh Shipp, who managed just five points on 2-of-7 shooting. “The ball went their way at the end, but we finished it up.”
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