Saturday, March 24, 2007

Commentary: UCLA playing the role of intimidator


— What fun it was to watch the UCLA Bruins trap, deny, collide, swat, strangle and suffocate anything and anybody necessary to make sure nothing went smoothly Thursday.

And that was just on offense.

I kid! UCLA did occasionally score against Pittsburgh, but it happened only sporadically, and it didn't seem like the Bruins' hearts were really into that part of the HP Pavilion festivities.

No, this Bruins team is about physically controlling the game on defense, and that's what UCLA did in its rock-'em sock-'em 64-55 West Regional semifinal victory.

Maybe it wasn't the most scintillating game ever played. It definitely wasn't an old-style, classic-era UCLA high-flying carnival. Those days are gone, folks.

But Thursday's performance was impressive. Yes, it was fearsomely impressive. Sort of intimidating, too.

In possession after possession, UCLA took out the hammer, tong, chisel and blow torch until there was nothing left of the Panthers but dust, dark blue speckles and faint memories of many, many, many hurried shots clanging off the rim.

The Bruins double-teamed Aaron Gray, Pitt's best offensive player, basically erased him from the game, and then swarmed the ball on the perimeter and did pretty much everything else they wanted to do.

This is not good news for Kansas, which narrowly beat Southern Illinois earlier and now must brace for the Bruins' backward and bruising mentality.

I'm pretty sure Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo, Josh Shipp and Co. run their offense down to the shot clock so often strictly just so they can take breathers between wild-eyed defensive efforts.

"Our defense was spectacular, I thought, tonight," Bruins coach Ben Howland said. "And it had to be or we weren't going to win this game."

That's because Pitt used to be coached by Howland and plays some spirited defense, too. And that's because the Bruins aren't a collection of natural offensive players.

They don't have Lew Alcindor on this team, or Bill Walton, Marques Johnson, Gale Goodrich or Ed O'Bannon. But so far, they haven't needed anybody like that.

What they have is a bunch of hard-nosed, long-armed, quick-trigger defensive players.

And what they do is play defense. And, judging by Pitt's 36.4 percent field-goal shooting Thursday and a series of similar sloggings in the recent Bruins past, they do defense very, very well.

The end of the first half was a perfect example, when seven consecutive Pitt possessions came and went without a made Panthers basket.

The results: Pitt turnover, turnover, fouled by UCLA and free throws, fouled and free throws, fouled and free throws, miss, fouled and free throws.

This kind of stuff does tend to bog a game down, and UCLA doesn't care. That procession of nothingness brought the Bruins a 32-26 lead, and a six-point lead for UCLA is like a 26-point lead for most anybody else.

The Thursday results, of course, set up a Glimmer Twin final in the West - Kansas vs. UCLA - except neither program has done the national-title glimmering since UCLA in 1995.

But what happened in the Bruins-Panthers game had the look and feel of a potential national champion.

That is, if you closed your eyes when the Bruins had the basketball. Sometimes, I think UCLA closed its eyes, too.


Lance Hobson 12 years, 11 months ago

UCLA's athletic director was on the NCAA selection committee. This is the second straight year they haven't had to leave California in the tourney? Coincidence? No, he's unscrupulous and should be taken to task for this lack of integrity.

justinryman 12 years, 11 months ago

The year Syracuse took down Kansas for the Championship, The 'Cuse never played more than 70 miles from home until the Final 4. Its a huge advantage playing in state and that close to home. Not only for your crowd, but less travel time, familiar settings, no time changes ect. ect ect.

Go get em Jhawks!!!!

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