INDIANAPOLIS – The Californians are still Indiana dreaming.
UCLA became the other survivor late Saturday night, eclipsing a young Louisiana State team handily, 59-45, to move into the NCAA tournament final for the first time since 1995 when the school won the last of its record 11 championships.
In their 15th Final Four, the Bruins (32-6) easily handled the Tigers (27-9) to advance into Monday night’s championship game against Florida. The Gators (32-6) ended the improbable hopes of George Mason (27-8) earlier in the evening at the RCA Dome, 73-58.
The Bruins immediately drained the suspense right out of a game that many felt they wouldn’t win.
Instead, UCLA unexpectedly dominated, building quick leads of 18-8 and 27-6 before hitting the locker room at halftime with a 39-24 edge. UCLA stomped on any notion of a comeback instantly at the beginning of the second half and led by 23 points with 13 minutes to go.
In an NCAA tournament that had been notable for incredible finishes, with overtimes common and last-minute or last-second winning shots, the semis proved anti-climactic.
Both Florida’s triumph and UCLA’s victory were accomplished with minimal sweat.
UCLA guards controlled the ball and UCLA forwards controlled the paint from the opening tip.
The Bruins’ defense squeezed LSU’s big men down low while the Tigers’ backcourt seemed lucky to hit the rim on their outside shots. LSU made just 9 of 30 field goal tries in the first half.
The Bruins surprisingly outrebounded, outran and outshot the Tigers in the first half. UCLA hit 58.3 percent, often penetrating for layups.
LSU forward Tyrus Thomas has feasted on unsuspecting foes with his shot-blocking talents.
Just the other day Bruins coach Ben Howland called Thomas “a shot-blocking, fly-swatting machine.” Yet he had just one block at the half and it was hardly noticeable.
Even worse for the Tigers, UCLA also outshot them from the free throw line. Shaquille O’Neal is a former LSU star, but the one part of his game the current players don’t want to emulate is his foul shooting.
While the Bruins hit a Reggie Miller-like (who was in the stands) 8 of 10 to imitate one of their alumni, LSU was an ugly 6 of 12.
UCLA forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute from Cameroon was a perfect 3 of 3 from the floor and 6 of 6 from the line in the first 20 minutes and in no way seemed intimidated by LSU’s vaunted front line, gathering six rebounds in that period.
Things went poorly for LSU from the start.
The Tigers tried to set a tone by setting up Glen “Big Baby” Davis, their star center, for a play in the low post. He received the pass, turned, shot-and missed.
The bad vibes continued from there as LSU looked sluggish, or perhaps even weary from its run to the Final Four.
A couple of minutes into the second half the charming, agile, but completely out-of-sorts Davis was 2 of 11 from the field.
No NCAA team has the history and tradition of UCLA. The Bruins have won 11 titles, 10 under John Wooden, and sent many famous All-American players to the pros.
Howland has tried to involve former players with his current players. many of whom are from Southern California.
The current crop came to Indianapolis with a clear understanding of the magnitude of what their predecessors accomplished.
“That’s a very special fraternity,” Howland said. “This always will be John Wooden’s program. At this point in time I am the torch-bearer.”
The day before the game, LSU players reflected on what UCLA is and was, but acted completely unworried about that heritage.
“I respect the tradition,” Davis said. “(But) UCLA is just a couple of letters on the front of the jersey to me.”
Actually, when it was over, those letters spelled L-O-S-S.
(c) 2006, Chicago Tribune.
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