Almost one year ago today (just 3 days short), I gave up on a basketball game that I never should have given up on. Thank the Lord that the Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head, Roger Powell, and Jack Ingram didn't give up. They came back from a 15 point deficit with 4:00 minutes to play and completed one of the greatest comebacks in college basketball history.
Tonight, the UCLA Bruins came as close as they possibly could to equaling that stunning feat. Unable to find the basket all night, and with their stifling defense failing them for much of the game, the Bruins found another gear, and found a way to pull out a win against a team that had dominated them all night, scoring the last 11 points of the game to once again survive and advance. There's so much to talk about in this game that I can't possibly cover it all. But one of the major themes of this game for the Bruins was senior leadership. This team has had its minutes dominated by freshmen and sophomores all season long, but tonight, the seniors simply refused to let their careers end. Hollins threw in 12 points and grabbed 8 rebounds while going 6 for 6 from the line, none more important than the last two coming with 19 seconds left, cutting the lead to one point. Ced contributed 4 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists, but played lock down defense on Adam Morrison after Aaron Afflalo picked up his fourth foul. You could just sense in him a desire to continue playing, which is rare, because Ced doesn't show much emotion out there.
Not to be outdone, the freshmen made their presence felt. Darren Collison didn't contribute much to the scoreboard, but provided excellent defense at the point, and suffered the worst call maybe in the history of college basketball. It wouldn't be a Bruin game without LRMAM leading the way on the boards, and tonight was no exception. He grabbed 10, tossed in 14 points, and for my money, he made the play of the game. Not the game winning shot, although he showed tremendous poise and hands while hauling in the pass from Jordan Farmar and laying it in the hoop. But in a very unfreshmanlike play, he proceeded to run down the court and steal the ball from Derek Raivio, giving the Bruins posession, and ending the game for all intents and purposes.
Farmar and Afflalo? They struggled. They were a combined 10-26, 5-15 from three, and Aaron missed some big free throws. But when the game was on the line, they stepped up. Farmar hit an amazing runner in from just outside the lane in the waning moments to bring the Bruins to within three points with under a minute to play. He grabbed the loose ball and made a great pass to LRMAM under the basket for the winning score.
Congratulations to the Bulldogs on another great season. I'll admit, I hated Adam Morrison during this game. I think he fouls pretty much every time he has the ball. But he's got great touch. He looks like he has a great feel for the game. He was pretty gracious during the post-game interview, and I wish him well at the next level. JP Batista, on the other hand, whined about a foul that simply didn't exist, and anyone who saw the game knows that. Tough way for them to lose, and if Mark Few head to Indiana, their window may be shut.
Congrats to Coach Howland. Once again, he's worked the third season magic. For the first time, he's heading to the Elite 8. Fitting, because he's truly an elite coach, and he's rebuilding an elite program.
The Bruins played arguably their worst offensive game of the season. They were outshot. They were outrebounded. Yet they still found a way to get the job done. They found the will to win and showed the heart of a champion. They may not advance on Saturday, but they've anounced their presence. The program is back on the national stage, and let's not forget, this is a learning year. Next year was supposed to be the year that UCLA anounced that they were back. Looks like the precocious kids didn't want to wait that long.