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2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

Saturday, March 22, 2008

UCLA holds off Texas A&M 53-49 in a second-round thriller



AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

UCLA's Darren Collison celebrates scoring to put his team ahead of Texas A&M in the final minute of their second round basketball game at the NCAA West Regional on Saturday, March 22, 2008 in Anaheim, Calif. Texas A&M player Josh Carter is at rear. UCLA won 53-49.

— There's no quit in the UCLA Bruins. Good thing, since they keep finding trouble and inventing ways to escape.

Darren Collison scored the go-ahead basket on a one-handed layin with 9½ seconds remaining, Josh Shipp blocked Donald Sloan's final drive and the West Region's No. 1 seed held on for a 53-49 victory over Texas A&M; in the second round of the NCAA tournament Saturday night.

"Once the time clock goes zero, zero, we'll stop playing," Collison said. "We've been through that all season. We knew what we had to do; we knew who was going to win, and all the coaches said we just had to do the right things to win the game."

The Bruins (33-3) won their 12th in a row and will face Western Kentucky or San Diego next week in Phoenix. Their 33rd win is a record at the tradition-laden school that has 11 national championship banners, and their 96th NCAA tourney victory trails only Kentucky's 100.

"That was reminiscent of a lot of games we seem to be in lately, where we're having to make dramatic comebacks in the last few minutes," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "But the one thing that I love about our team is that they know in their heart they're always going to win the game. They're going to find a way."

Urged on by a pro-UCLA crowd that made it seem like a home game, the Bruins rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half.

Freshman Kevin Love had 19 points and 11 rebounds - his 21st double-double - and UCLA overcame the combined 3-for-14 shooting of Shipp and Russell Westbrook. Love had seven of UCLA's 11 blocked shots.

"I was just very into it," said Love, who squeezed the ball and screamed toward the crowd during a late timeout. "I flexed so much, my muscles kind of hurt after this and also I stuck my tongue out so much that it was pretty crazy."

Sloan led the Aggies (25-11) with 12 points and Josh Carter added 10. A&M; was trying to get back to the final 16 for the second straight year. Instead, the Aggies fell to 7-10 in NCAA tourney games and 0-4 against UCLA.

"I thought we were in total control, always one step ahead," first-year A&M; coach Mark Turgeon said. "I thought we were going to win."

Collison led UCLA with 21 points, including 14 in the first half when he didn't miss a shot from the field, line or 3-point range.

Love, the newcomer to NCAA tourney pressure, and Collison, the wily veteran of consecutive Final Four appearances, dominated the final 3 minutes. Love converted consecutive turnaround jumpers - one tied it at 45 and the other gave the Bruins their first lead since late in the first half.

"Kevin's two little fallaways were incredible shots," Howland said. "Those are like little H-O-R-S-E shot plays, unbelievable with that kind of stuff on the line. Your season's on the line and he could step up and make those plays. That's why he's a great player."

But Joseph Jones, who bumped and clawed with Love in the post most of the game, got in front of the Pac-10 Player of the Year and scored A&M;'s first field goal in nearly 10 minutes to tie it at 47.

The first of Collison's two one-handed layins put the Bruins back in front by two with 55 seconds left. Sloan tied it for the final time at 49 before Collison floated in another one-hander, furiously pounding his chest as the crowd exploded.

"That was vintage Darren Collison," Howland said. "Driving down the lane, going right, high off the glass, kissing it in. The second one was really a blessing because that thing kind of rolled in. Believe me, I'm very thankful."

Shipp was credited with the block on Sloan's desperate drive.

"I drove and went up to shoot a layup and it was brought back down either by my force or somebody else's," Sloan said. "Leave it up to other people to see, but it didn't go our way."

Westbrook punctuated the comeback with a fastbreak dunk at the buzzer that triggered a huge celebration on one bench and despair on the other.

"That was same thing we do all year - lock down, switch everything and fortunately, I was able to get my hand on it and make the play," Shipp said. "The guy had just made a shot, so we knew he was most likely going to take it."

The Aggies had planned to go for a 3-pointer on their final play, with Dominique Kirk as the shooter and Carter as the decoy. But that didn't develop.

"I was going to run out of here with a one-point win," Turgeon said. "Sloan just went a little too quick, but he was feeling good about himself and thought he could get to the basket."

The Aggies outscored the Bruins 27-11 over both halves, including 8-0 and 7-0 runs, for a 36-26 lead. Carter opened the second half with a 3-pointer, then his jumper hit the side of the backboard and went in before Jones scored around Love to give the Aggies their largest lead.

That's when UCLA rallied with a 17-8 run. Love scored seven, Collison hit his fifth 3-pointer over 7-foot DeAndre Jordan and Westbrook scored four in a row - his first points of the game - to cut it to 44-43 with 5:51 remaining.

"We did a good job against their defense, their pressure," Turgeon said. "It just came down to Love and Collison at the end making plays."

Even as the Bruins were scratching their way back, they were missing shots and committing some of their 14 turnovers. But the Aggies had their own problems, with Jordan and Carter picking up their third fouls at the same time.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute returned for the Bruins after missing two games with a sprained left ankle. He was clearly rusty, with a team-high eight turnovers and four fouls.

Turgeon had predicted the first team to 50 would win. It just wasn't his.

"I just hate to see it end," he said. "We were just really coming on."


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