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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT | THE FIRST STEPS

USC, UCLA Take Widely Different Routes Into the Second Round

East Regional: Bruins come up strong down the stretch to finally put away Hofstra, 61-48.

March 16, 2001|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Ever hear an entire basketball program exhale? That's what UCLA did Thursday after finally putting Hofstra away, using its full-court press to snuff out the threat of another first-round collapse.

"There's a burden lifted off every team that wins in the first round," said Bruin point guard Earl Watson, who had 15 points, seven assists and four steals in the 61-48 victory. "Everyone picked us to lose. . . . It's tough when it's you against the world."

The fourth-seeded Bruins might not be world beaters, but they did end Hofstra's 18-game winning streak--the longest in the nation--and limit the Pride to a season-low 15 points in the second half.

That was enough to earn the Bruins a second-round game against Utah State, which toppled fifth-seeded Ohio State in overtime, 77-68.

For a while, it looked as if 13th-seeded Hofstra would pull off a similar upset. In the last decade, four underdogs have sent the Bruins packing in the first round--Penn State, Tulsa, Princeton and Detroit Mercy.

Was Hofstra next in line?

The Greensboro Coliseum crowd seemed to think so. Except for two sections reserved for UCLA fans, it seemed everyone in the stands was booing the Bruins and rooting for the Pride, which made nine three-pointers and led by six with 13 minutes to play.

"The boos just show that we've come a long way," forward Matt Barnes said. "When you get booed for no apparent reason, obviously they're jealous and they want you to lose. We just play well in that kind of environment."

That showed down the stretch, when the Bruins finished with a 24-5 run and held Hofstra without a field goal in the final 9:12. When center Dan Gadzuric scored on a put-back with 7:23 remaining, UCLA took the lead and never looked back.

Gadzuric, more athletic than Hofstra's big men, was a king-sized headache for the Pride, even though he picked up three fouls in the first half and played the last six minutes with four. He made his most significant contribution in the press, scrambling all over the floor and tipping away passes. Once, he crashed into the UCLA bench in pursuit of a loose ball and sent folding chairs flying.

There were plenty of bumps and bruises to go around. The Bruins, who played with no emotion in their season-ending loss to Washington, relocated their hustle in the second half against Hofstra. An example: With 6:37 remaining, Watson stole a pass and--just before toppling over press row--called time out.

As the game wore on, Hofstra had more and more problems handling the press. Its players had never seen a defense so suffocating.

"The most difficult part for us was that they have such great athletes--one through five--and they do a great job of moving around the court," said Hofstra point guard Jason Hernandez, who had zero turnovers but saw teammates commit 19. "They all can sprint. They all do a great job moving around the court, and they play so hard on defense."

Bruin guard Billy Knight scored a team-high 17 points, and wound up with at least as many floor burns as a result of his defensive hustle.

"You can tell a team's cracking when they start traveling and passing it back and forth in the backcourt," he said. "That's when we can tell we have them, when they start getting nervous and they don't know who to pass to. Once we see that, it's like a shark seeing blood. We attack them more. When they see Dan jumping around like that, they're like, 'Dang, this team is tough.' "

It was hard to believe these were the same Bruins who looked so lifeless at Washington, when they hardly bothered to get their hands up on defense, let alone sacrifice their bodies for the cause.

"I give our kids the credit," Coach Steve Lavin said. "They kept their poise and composure. We got back to the way we were before the Washington trip, taking care of the basketball and playing great defense."

Offense, though, was a struggle. The Bruins were tentative and butter-fingered in the first half, and got only moderately better in the second. Jason Kapono took only eight shots and finished with seven points, never materializing into the three-point bombardier Hofstra had expected.

"I felt fine," Kapono said. "I was just a little hesitant shooting the ball. I was doing a little drifting, a little leaning back. I might not have touched it as much as I wanted to, but I'm fine with that, as long as we win.

"Survive and advance, that's what it's all about."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

GAME REPORT

HIGH

SCORERS

UCLA

Knight, 17

HOFSTRA

Apodaca, 16

MOST

REBOUNDS

UCLA

Gadzuric, 13

HOFSTRA

Gittens, 8

MOST

ASSISTS

UCLA

Watson, 7

HOFSTRA

Hernandez, 6

*

TALE OF THE TAPE

UCLA and HU

61 POINTS 48

26 REBS 28

11 TO 21

47 FG% 36

33 3PT.% 36

50 FT% 60

Dancin' With Lavin

How the Bruins have fared in the NCAA tournament under Steve Lavin:

1997 (Seeded second in West)

* First round--d. No. 15 Charleston Southern, 109-75

* Second round--d. No. 7 Xavier, 96-83

* Regional semifinal--d. No. 6 Iowa State, 74-73 (OT)

* Regional final--lost to No. 1 Minnesota, 80-72

1998 (Seeded sixth in South)

* First round--d. No. 11 Miami, 65-62

* Second round--d. No. 3 Michigan 85-82

* Regional semifinal--lost to No. 2 Kentucky, 94-68

1999 (Seeded fifth in South)

* First round--lost to No. 12 Detroit Mercy, 56-53

2000 (Seeded sixth in Midwest)

* First round--d. No. 11 Ball State, 65-57

* Second round--d. No. 3 Maryland, 105-70

* Regional semifinal--lost to No. 2 Iowa State, 80-56

2001 (Seeded fourth in East)

* First round--d. No. 13 Hofstra, 61-48

OVERALL

* 8-4: Overall record

* 2-3: Record vs. teams seeded above them

* 6-1: Record vs. teams seeded below them

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