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Ugly good

Bruins' stifling defense has them poised for title run

Posted: Saturday March 25, 2006 11:57PM; Updated: Saturday March 25, 2006 11:57PM
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Ryan Hollins grabbed 14 points and nine boards to dominate the inside for UCLA.
Ryan Hollins grabbed 14 points and nine boards to dominate the inside for UCLA.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

When it was all over and the Bruins had earned their tickets to Indianapolis, their pround fans broke into their familiar chant, "U-C (clap-clap) L-A!"

It probably should have been "U-G (clap-clap) L-Y!"

Ugly is suddenly these Bruins' middle name. They play that way and they make their opponents play that way, but the results, if you wear Bruin blue and gold, are a thing of beauty.

UCLA's 50-45 regional final win over Memphis wasn't exactly the most aesthetically pleasing piece of basketball ever produced, but it was a perfect example of who the Bruins have become. They are hard-nosed grinders who wear down their opponents with defense. It's not the most entertaining way to play, but to UCLA coach Ben Howland, it's the most effective.

It was certainly the best way to shut down the previously high-flying, run-and-gun Tigers. UCLA carried out Howland's plan to perfection, choking off the Memphis fast break that had burned the Bruins in the team's previous meeting, an 88-80 Memphis win in the preseason NIT. Memphis coach John Calipari, noting the Bruins' defensive improvement since that game, predicted on Friday that his team wouldn't match those 88 points on Saturday. Little did he know that they would barely produce half that total.

How stymied were the Tigers? Pick a stat, any stat. They shot 27.8 percent from the field. They were 0-for-15 on 3-point attempts until a pair of too-little-too-late bombs by Shawne Williams and Rodney Carney in the closing seconds. The Tigers' 45 points were their season low.

"We didn't exactly come through with our best performance," said Calipari, who's usually not given to such understatement.

UCLA wasn't much prettier on the offensive end than the Tigers were. The Bruins scored only four field goals in the second half, and they were 6-for-21 from the free-throw line at one point. Someone asked senior forward Cedric Bozeman what he would have thought of the two teams had he been a spectator watching at home. "I probably would have turned off the TV," he said.

But neither Bozeman nor his teammates were the slightest bit embarrassed at having won such an ugly contest to reach the Final Four, nor should they be. If you want entertainment, watch The Sopranos. If you want to see winners, watch UCLA.

Player Who Impressed Me

UCLA center Ryan Hollins. It's a measure of how well Hollins played that he was abysmal from the free-throw line and still managed to win the Most Outstanding Player award for the Oakland Regional. Hollins, a senior, was 2-for-11 from the line, which was about the only thing that kept Memphis in the game. But he also dominated the paint, making six of his seven field-goal attempts and grabbing nine rebounds to go along with his 14 points. The Tigers' big men simply couldn't handle Hollins inside, and their only recourse was to foul him, which, as it turned out, wasn't a bad strategy. Hollins didn't let his foul-shooting struggles affect the rest of his game, and he came up with a key defensive play down the stretch. Memphis had closed to 44-39 with 54 seconds left when Hollins stole a pass at midcourt that probably would have led to a fast-break layup or dunk. The play snuffed out what turned out to be the Tigers' last, best hope.

Courtside Confidential

Memphis center Joey Dorsey might have been the most frustrated Tiger. In addition to being unable to stop Hollins, Dorsey made only one shot, missed a pair of layups, committed a key traveling violation late in the game, and spent most of the afternoon in foul trouble. He was barking at the refs in frustration most of the game, and at one point his teammate Antonio Anderson said to one of the officials, "Don't even listen to him." ... Howland is much more intense when the Bruins are on defense than he is when they have the ball. At one point he was actually in a defensive stance, knees bent, arms spread, as he barked instructions to his team. "I swear, one of these days, Coach is going to take a charge," said Hollins. ... Bozeman, a fifth-year senior, was given the honor of being the last person to cut down the net after the game. He had climbed to the top of the ladder when he realized that another senior, little-used Janou Rubin, had not gotten a turn. So he climbed down and handed the scissors to Rubin. Very classy move.

Big Picture

This much we know: The Bruins won't be blown out by LSU in the national semifinals. UCLA's defense and their ability to slow the pace of the game is so effective that they are always in the game, no matter whom they play. LSU is similar to Memphis in that they are athletic and like to run, so Howland will be able to transfer much of Saturday's game plan to next weekend. The difference is that LSU can go to Glen "Big Baby" Davis in the halfcourt, and Memphis had no such low-post option. Look for Hollins, the Bruins' center, to play a huge role again. If he can neutralize Davis without getting in foul trouble, UCLA will be in excellent shape. The Bruins, however, have to be more productive on offense than they were against Memphis. The guess here is that they will be, and UCLA will get to the title game.