Saturday, March 24, 2007

UCLA 68; Kansas 55 - Bruins Off to the Land of Many Peachtree Streets

Seriously, I've been to Atlanta, and there are like 18 streets all called Peachtree. It's very confusing. But I digress...

Look, this isn't gonna be an easy post for me to write without going into how much I hate Kansas. It started with Roy Williams poaching SoCal's best players, and the hatred intensified when that cocksucker Bail $elfish left Illinois to take the Kansas job. Let's get one thing straight, $elfish is a great recruiter, but he is a flat out AWFUL game coach (with an exception or two, which I'll get into later). Ask any Illinois fan who witnessed the 2003 debacle against Notre Dame where he suddenly decided that guarding the perimeter was not a priority, and when ND hit a ton of first half threes, he still thought it wasn't a priority. Result? Predictable.

Let me go ahead and write out the quotes from Kansas players right now:
  • We missed a lot of easy shots.
  • We missed a bunch of shots that we usually make.
  • We picked a bad time to miss a bunch of layups.
  • Yada...Yada...Yada....
Pyrrhus wrote a great diary about this the other day at Bruins Nation. It seems that every team who plays against UCLA in the tournament miraculously suffers through a bad shooting game. Like it's magic or something. Note to Bruins opponents: Their defense is very good. Those shots you missed, they weren't easy. You were rushing, because you knew if you'd taken another half second, you would have been stuffed or stripped. At least in missing, you had a shot at the offensive rebound.

On to the the game itself, I'll be honest. I was not happy with the first half. Too many turnovers. Too many bad decisions. At about the 15 minute mark, I thought 'just get it to three by halftime'. But a nice run over the last five minutes, and a great play at the end of the half (which failed later in the game) gave the Bruins a four point cushion. At that point of the game, I called my dad and said the first five minutes of the half were of utmost importance. This has been kind of a theme of mine this season. Ever since they lost the Stanford game, I've been all over the importance of the first five minutes of the second half. Well, tonight, after the first five and half minutes of the second half, UCLA pushed a four point lead out to nine, and would make it 11 just a minute later. Kansas never returned to that four point deficit.

So many heroes tonight. Josh Shipp's three pointers, including the three at the end of the first half. He finished with 9 points, 5 assists, and 6 boards. Darren Collison handled the Kansas pressure for the most part and tossed in 14 points. Don't look at the assist to turnover ratio. It's meaningless tonight. The defense of Aboya, Mata, and LRMAM, once again forcing a ton of misses on "easy" shots. Russel Westbrook, 2-2 on a dunk and a layup. Instant offense. And I'll say it right now, I hope Collison doesn't leave, but if he does, I could see Russel making the same type of transition that Collison has made in Jordan Farmar's absence.

But the hero, UCLA's best player, was UCLA's best player, Arron Afflalo. What. A. Game. He poured in 24 points. 10-15 from the field, most of those in the second half (he started off poorly). 3-7 from beyond the arc. And he showed the country once again that you should never feel comfortable in the final second of the shot clock. He nailed one. Collison nailed one. They were back breakers for Kansas. There's just something about giving up those types of shots late. You think you're about to get the ball back. You think you have a chance to cut a six point deficit to three or four, and all of the sudden your down by nine. This kid is a winner, and the only bad news from tonight is that he probably cemented his status as an NBA first rounder.

Ben Howland. Talk about a class act, and a hell of a game coach. He stayed with the game plan, and knew his players could execute. And you had to love the respect he showed former UCLA PBP announcer Dick Enberg. And I will give credit to $elfish for his strategy with about 3 minutes left. Kansas had not committed many fouls, and they knew they would need to probably put UCLA on the line at the end. But he didn't wait until a minute remained to foul on purpose. He got his team to really start ball hawking with about three minutes left. Go for the foul, and if you foul, who cares? It was a good strategy and it led to a couple of turnovers.

But despite the turnovers, despite some poor decision making, UCLA is heading to it's second straight final four. Ben Howland has returned this team to the top of college basketball's elite. And these kids, who have worked so hard all year, are headed back to college basketball's biggest stage. Congratulations, Bruins.

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