AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The great end-of-season run Thursday night became the end of the season, period, an often-magical UCLA journey halted as improbably as it was sparked.
Iowa State 80, UCLA 56.
The team that led the Pacific 10 Conference in shooting and made 54.6% of its shots in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament labored at 33.9% in the fade to black.
The offense of Earl Watson and Jason Kapono that had carried the Bruins so much of the season managed a combined six baskets in 18 tries and 16 points.
The resilient group that beat Oregon and rallied against California and stunned Stanford and put on a clinic against Maryland in the end got dispatched like a first-round just-happy-to-be-here underdog.
The rout by the second-seeded Cyclones before 21,214 at the Palace of Auburn Hills in the Midwest Regional semifinals was an undeserving end to an eight-game winning streak that had delivered some of the program's greatest moments in years, but a fitting conclusion to a season that often skidded off the tracks just like this. Although never at a moment like this.
"Just knowing we didn't play our best," junior swingman Rico Hines said. "We didn't give them our best game. We didn't give them our 'A' game. That's what hurts. We didn't play as well as we could. That's why this hurts more than any loss we've had since I've been at UCLA."
The Sour 16. The sixth-seeded Bruins, failing to reach 22 wins for the first time in Coach Steve Lavin's four seasons, even as they climbed the brackets to this advanced stage of the tournament for the third time in the same span, lasted for about 16 minutes.
Maryland game? What Maryland game?
"It was like there was no soul out there," center Dan Gadzuric said. "Just bodies."
UCLA (21-12) trailed by double digits the final 23:35, even as Iowa State All-American Marcus Fizer, though kept in until 1:35 remained, was contained to 16 points and nine rebounds. The Bruins trailed by as many as 25 points.
It was a bad sign for the Bruins that they didn't even have time to get their defense set before Iowa State scored for the first time. Even worse that the basket came from Fizer, getting him going with an easy score on a night when UCLA needed to at least make him work for points inside. Instead, the Cyclones controlled the opening tip, whipped the ball into the front court and found him underneath for a layup in nine seconds, before the opponents even had a chance to show whether they would go man-to-man or zone.
The day before, Coach Steve Lavin said it would be a mixture throughout, wanting to at least try to keep Fizer off balance in the looks he would get. But in the first half, he saw nearly all zone. And he saw the Bruin "A" lineup immediately, as opposed to the starting lineup--this time, Lavin waited all of 30 seconds and one offensive possession before pulling Sean Farnham in favor of Gadzuric.
The 6-foot-8 Fizer would have to operate against the 6-10 Jerome Moiso and the 7-0 Gadzuric if he chose to stay near the basket, but the Cyclones continued to get him the ball inside, undaunted. Fizer got a shot off over Gadzuric on the second Iowa State trip down, but missed. In fact, he missed two of the three inside looks that came after the opening baskets.
Given at least a temporary reprieve, the Bruins quickly found themselves dealing with another problem, one that had also been anticipated. Iowa State's speed cut up them up, either on dribble penetration by point guard Jamaal Tinsley or a transition game that got behind the UCLA defense several times in the first half.
The Bruins trailed only 20-18 when Iowa State made its first move. Brandon Hawkins, the reserve guard from Fontana and Crenshaw High, scored in the lane twice in the next three possessions. Kantrail Horton made a three-pointer, pushing the lead to nine.
When Fizer missed a turn-around from the left side and a short baseline jumper, and good help defense produced Watson's block of Fizer on the double team, UCLA capitalized with a Gadzuric layup and a three-pointer by Kapono. That cut the deficit to 27-23.
That's where the Bruins exited. Iowa State scored on four consecutive possessions, including a fastbreak basket by Fizer. That put the Cyclones at 55.2% for the half, at a 36-25 advantage and bound for a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 against Michigan State on Saturday for a trip to the Final Four.
UCLA never recovered. It went nearly four minutes without a point, before Watson's three-pointer with two seconds left in the half, which merely cut the margin to 40-28. Just as glaring, the Bruins had two more turnovers (eight) than assists.
Fizer was impressive in spurts but far from dominating, and the Cyclones still led by 12. Nothing could be more encouraging. Not that they didn't have practice at this sort of thing--they beat Auburn by 19 in the second round last Saturday in Minneapolis while their star went only one of eight the first half and seven of 17 in all.