NCAA men's tournament

Moving on: It's Bruins, Buckeyes

Kansas is first No. 1 seed to lose

UCLA earns 17th trip to Final Four

UCLA 68 Kansas 55

March 25, 2007|By Terry Bannon | Terry Bannon,Chicago Tribune

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Bill Self had hoped Brandon Rush and his teammates would carry him to his first Final Four. But the Kansas coach will have to keep waiting.

UCLA is going to the NCAA tournament's semifinals for the second straight year and 17th overall because junior guard Arron Afflalo took control of a close game early in the second half last night, carrying the second-seeded Bruins to a 68-55 victory over the top-seeded Jayhawks in the West Regional final.

It was the fourth loss in four regional final appearances for Self, who also came up one game short of the Final Four with Kansas in 2004, Illinois in 2001 and Tulsa in 2000. And in a tournament where favorites have dominated, Kansas became the first No. 1 seed to go home.

"I'd much rather play in the game than not be in it," Self said. "But it hurts.

"But I'm not going to look and say, `Poor, pitiful me.' It's not about that. It's about getting your team there. ... I really felt like this was our year. I'm not saying a year to win it all, but I really felt like we were the best-equipped team to make a strong run. And we did. It just wasn't good enough."

Kansas (33-5), which overcame the sting of first-round elimination the past two seasons, put on a horrid shooting display, missing short jump shot after layup after short jumper. The Jayhawks shot 41.1 percent and missed 14 shots that were layups or short shots from inside.

"We didn't hit a lot of shots, and the basket was as big as an ocean for them," Kansas guard Mario Chalmers said.

"We definitely missed some easy shots," sophomore forward Julian Wright said. "It's a little frustrating at times. Our shots weren't falling."

Kansas had a chance to pull away from the Bruins (30-5) in the first half, when its smothering defense accounted for eight steals and five blocked shots.

But Afflalo drilled a three-point shot at the buzzer to give the Bruins a 35-31 lead.

"If we had had a stop there, it might have been a different feeling in the locker room at halftime," Self said.

Afflalo, who led all scorers with 24 points and made 10 of 15 shots, kept it up as the second half began. And he didn't get to rest on defense, often guarding Rush, who scored 18.

"I was probably a little too excited [in the first half]," Afflalo said. "I did a better job of being more patient and playing with more poise."

In the first 11 minutes, 30 seconds of the second half, Afflalo made all six of his shots, two of them three-pointers. He made the last two shots of the first half, giving him eight straight.

He scored nine straight UCLA points as the Bruins pulled out to a 53-45 lead.

The Jayhawks pulled to 55-50 on Russell Robinson's three-pointer with 5:23 left, but UCLA guard Darren Collison made sure there would be no rally.

With the shot clock running out, Collison hit a falling-away three-pointer to make it 58-50 with 4:43 left.

"That was the biggest shot of the game," Self said. "They did a great job of making shots at the end of the shot clock."

"A beautiful thing to watch," Afflalo said.

Those shots riled up the overwhelmingly pro-UCLA crowd of 18,102 at HP Pavilion.

"It was basically like a home game," Bruins guard Josh Shipp said.

Terry Bannon writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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