UCLA puts on a show in routing LSU

Ucla 59 Lsu 45

NCAA Men

April 02, 2006|By LEW FREEDMAN | LEW FREEDMAN,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Californians are still Indiana dreaming.

UCLA became the other survivor late last night, eclipsing a young LSU 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 to tomorrow night's championship game against Florida (32-6).

The Bruins quickly drained the suspense out of a game that many felt they wouldn't win.

Building leads of 18-8 and 27-6 before hitting the locker room at halftime with a 39-24 advantage, the Bruins wasted no time laying to rest any notion of an LSU comeback at the beginning of the second half and led by 23 points with 13 minutes to go.

In an NCAA tournament that has been notable for amazingly tight finishes, with overtimes common and last-minute or last-second winning shots, the semifinals proved anti-climactic.

Florida's triumph and UCLA's victory were accomplished with minimal sweat.

UCLA's guards controlled the ball and its forwards controlled the paint from the opening tip.

Also, said LSU coach John Brady: "One key tonight, and we didn't see this as well on tape, was their physicalness."

The Bruins' defense squeezed LSU's big men down low while the Tigers' backcourt seemed lucky to hit the rim on its outside shots. LSU made just nine 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 had been feasting on opponents with his shot-blocking talent.

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 8-for-10 to imitate one of their alumni, LSU was an ugly 6-for-12. Miller, incidentally, was in the stands.

UCLA forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute from Cameroon was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field and 6-for-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.

"They came out and punched us and we didn't recover from it," Davis said.

A couple of minutes into the second half, the charming, agile, but completely out-of-sorts Davis was 2-for-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 have sent many players to the pros.

Howland has tried to involve former players with his current group, many of whom are from Southern California.

The latest crop came to Indianapolis with a clear understanding of the magnitude of what its 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's 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 WINNER.

Lew Freedman writes for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Men's Final Four

TOMORROW'S TITLE GAME

Florida vs. UCLA, 9:21 p.m., chs. 13, 9

Line: Florida by 1 1/2

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