ATLANTA - Arron Afflalo spent most of UCLA’s biggest game sitting on the bench with a towel draped across his lap, saddled with foul trouble.
After the Bruins’ 76-66 loss to Florida in the national semifinals Saturday night, Afflalo sat at his locker and fought back tears, sniffling as he spoke.
“I’m trying to keep my head high and be strong for my teammates,” he said. “I’m in a lot of pain right now.”
When he did play, Afflalo didn’t look anything like a first-team All-America. UCLA’s leader on offense and defense was 5-for-14 from the field and finished with 17 points, all in the final 6:19, when the Bruins never got closer than 10 points.
It was almost a year ago to the day that UCLA was handled easily by the Gators in a 73-57 loss in the national championship game. Afflalo had a bad night in that game, too, going 3-for-10 from the field and scoring 10 points.
When Florida’s star players all announced they would return for this season to defend their title, it was almost ignored that Afflalo had removed his name from the NBA draft and would be back for his junior season to try and help the Bruins add another to their record 11 NCAA championships.
He and the Gators all made it back to the Final Four. For Afflalo, however, it was much too similar a result.
The 6-foot-5 guard, considered one of the country’s top defenders, picked up his second foul 1:50 into the game. UCLA coach Ben Howland decided he needed his top scorer, with 16.9 points per game, back on the court — even if the Bruins did have a 6-2 lead.
Afflalo returned with 13:20 left in the half. He was back on the bench with his third foul 1:54 later. He played a total of five minutes in the first half and, thanks to Josh Shipp, who had 14 points in the opening 20 minutes, the Bruins trailed 29-23 at halftime.
Afflalo said he never picked up two fouls that early in a game.
“I’m a little embarrassed about it,” he said. “I was very excited to play tonight. Very, very excited. I was looking forward to the challenge, and maybe that aggression, maybe that excitement. ...
“My whole intent was to come out and be aggressive-minded and be a spark for my team at both ends, and obviously I picked up some stupid fouls on my part and it really affected my team.”
Howland didn’t start Afflalo in the second half. He was in the game within the first 2½ minutes, but was never the offensive spark the Bruins needed, missing his first six shots.
Afflalo’s first field goal was a 3-pointer that brought UCLA within 58-45 with about six minutes to play.
His late scoring flurry did get the Bruins within 10 points, but all it really meant was another season ending in the Final Four against Florida.
“It’s all about getting in your rhythm,” he said. “The game is too big to get out there and try to force shots, so I tried to let the offense come to me a little bit, and when you’re not in rhythm, your shots aren’t always comfortable as usual, so I had to press the issue a little bit at the end.”
Then it was back to the bench to watch another disheartening finish against Florida.
“The only thing that disappoints me a little bit is that I wasn’t there full-time for my team,” he said.
Afflalo then addressed the possibility of his returning for his senior season.
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.
“The university’s done a lot for me, and sometimes you have to make sacrifices for some good things. I don’t know. It’s something I’m going to have to think about, but that was my sole purpose and I’m still intent on doing that.”
CBT: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski made it official that he'll be coaching Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and he'll also be with Duke at least that long, too.
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