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March 26, 2006
OAKLAND, Calif. - There's no mistaking this UCLA team for the ones the Wizard of Westwood took to the Final Four. Or even for Jim Harrick's national champions.
The Bruins took winning ugly to another level in their 50-45 victory over Memphis on Saturday. To the UCLA players, however, it was a thing of beauty because they're going to Indianapolis to play in the Final Four.
''It really was because we're sitting today with these hats on, these beautiful T-shirts, all that stuff,'' point guard Jordan Farmar said. ''It doesn't matter what goes on in the game. Me personally, 1-for-9, 50 percent from the free-throw line. I couldn't be happier right now. I wouldn't have it any other way. That's all that matters.''
Only once in the rich history of the school had UCLA scored that few points in a tournament game, coming in a 43-41 first-round loss to Princeton in 1996.
In fact, even John Wooden's teams that played without a shot clock or a 3-pointer only held two opponents in the tournament to fewer points than Memphis scored - and those wins came in the first two rounds, not a regional final.
''If we won 2-0, 111-109, a win is a win,'' said Ryan Hollins, who was voted the outstanding player of the regional despite missing nine of 11 free throws Saturday. ''It doesn't matter. That's what is going down in history right now.''
It was a game most non-UCLA fans would rather forget. Take a look at these statistics: 4-for-17 shooting in the second half, 20-for-39 from the foul line, 17 turnovers.
And that was from the winning team.
It was the lowest-scoring regional final since the shot clock was first implemented in the tournament in 1986. That's a far cry from UCLA's last win in the regional final, which also came in Oakland in 1995 when the Bruins outran Connecticut 102-96 on their way to their 11th national championship.
In that game, Ray Allen scored as many points (36) as the whole Memphis team had through the first 36 minutes Saturday. But with Tyus Edney, Ed O'Bannon and Toby Bailey running up and down the floor, the Bruins had enough to win.
''We have different personnel than the '95 team,'' said defensive stopper Arron Afflalo, who held Memphis leading scorer Rodney Carney to five points on 2-for-12 shooting. ''We have tough, tough guys who are willing to do whatever it takes to win.''
What they did was hold Memphis to 17-for-54 shooting (31.5 percent), force the Tigers to miss their first 14 3-pointers and frustrate them the entire game. It was a dramatic turnaround from when the teams met in November and Memphis won 88-80.
''We knew if we played at that pace, we weren't going to win,'' Afflalo said. ''We're a pretty dominant defensive team right now.''
The Bruins (31-6) have won 11 games in a row heading into the Final Four, allowing only one opponent to score more than 60 points and giving up an average of 54.7 per game. They were thoroughly outplayed for nearly 36 minutes against Gonzaga before scoring the final 11 points to win 73-71 in the third-round game.
If UCLA can carry that defensive efficiency over to Final Four when they face LSU (27-8) on Saturday in a semifinal game, Memphis coach John Calipari believes they can win it all.
''If they can keep these games from being fast-paced games, with the guys they have out there, they can continue doing this,'' Calipari said. ''If it's in the 60s, they got a chance.''
Even if UCLA doesn't resemble Wooden's 10 championship teams, his imprint will always be on the program. Third-year coach Ben Howland, just the fourth man to lead UCLA to the Final Four, knows the Wizard would be proud.
''I think our team embodies the spirit of what Coach is all about, which is teamwork, which is unselfish play, which is a commitment at both ends of the floor to play together, team defense, team offense, giving yourself up for your teammates,'' Howland said. ''As we continue to win, they all get recognized.''For more UCLA final four coverage, check out BruinBlitz.com.
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