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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT | Elite and Delete

USC Advances and Will Face Duke, Which Proves Too Strong for UCLA

UCLA: Bruins get off to a slow start, then Blue Devils' Williams provides the knockout punch with a big second half, 76-63.

March 23, 2001|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHILADELPHIA — Earl Watson shrouded his head in a towel. Jason Kapono wiped tears from his eyes. Billy Knight tried to collect his faculties after taking a size-13 shoe to the face.

What a forgettable way to end a memorable UCLA basketball season.

"It's kind of rough, because we know we didn't give Duke our best shot," said guard Ray Young, trying to come to grips with a 76-63 loss to the Blue Devils in an East Regional semifinal. "That's the most frustrating thing."

A Pennsylvania record crowd of 20,270 stayed late to find out which team would face USC for a Final Four berth, but the clock struck midnight on the Bruins long before that.

They couldn't run their offense. They didn't get enough scoring from Dan Gadzuric, Matt Barnes or Kapono--and only two points from their bench. And everyone looked rattled but Watson, the only member of the team who had played Duke before.

Kapono might have been more of a threat had he not picked up four fouls in the first half, essentially rendering him armless in the second. He had to play scared, and Duke point guard Jason Williams wasted no time taking advantage of that.

On several occasions, Williams blazed through the lane with impunity, knifing in for layups that were all but uncontested. He also knocked down six of 13 three-point shots and finished with 34 points, matching his career high.

"I got a lot of open looks," said Williams, who scored 19 consecutive points during a second-half stretch. "I was just taking my shots and they were just going down. . . . I don't think that I took the game over. Our team did. Tonight was just my night."

The same could not be said of the Bruins, who shot 38.3% from the field (23 of 60) and committed 23 turnovers.

Instead of making it to the Elite Eight for a dream matchup with the Trojans, UCLA could have used a standing eight-count.

"It ended up being a different game than people anticipated," said Coach Steve Lavin, who was bracing for a back-and-forth battle played at playground pace. "It was more of a halfcourt slugfest."

And the Bruins took a drubbing. Really, they were still paying for their critical blunder at the end of the regular season when they lost at Washington, a team they should have dominated. Had UCLA won that game, it would have gotten a higher seeding than fourth and there's no way it would have crossed paths with top-seeded Duke so soon.

But there's no point in looking back now. The Bruins are done, and--in the add-insult-to-injury department--now have to watch USC live their dreams. On that, the players were surprisingly charitable.

"I was glad SC won," said Knight, still woozy after Gadzuric accidentally stepped on his face during a pileup late in the game. "They're a Southern California team, a Pac-10 team. That didn't really put any added pressure on us. We were thinking about Duke."

Added Barnes: "I didn't care about SC. I couldn't care less about that. We went out there and played Duke. We didn't care about what they did."

The Blue Devils were impossible to ignore.

Williams spent a lot of time guarding Watson, who finished his UCLA career with a team-high 17 points but struggled to find his rhythm. He held his emotions in check for most of the game, but late in the second half after a loose-ball scramble, his frustration bubbled over. He exchanged words with Williams and had to be restrained from going after him.

After the game--and 20 minutes to cool down in the locker room--Watson had only kind words for Duke's star sophomore, considered by many the best point guard in college basketball.

"He's able to play with a lot of freedom," Watson said. "Their strategy was great, and Jason's been playing well all year. It was mostly scrambling situations off turnovers. Any good team will capitalize on that, and they did."

Duke's best player, Shane Battier, battled with Barnes all night. Barnes did a respectable job on defense and grabbed 11 rebounds, but Battier won the war with 24 points, 11 boards and four steals.

"At different times this season, Jason and Shane have carried us in big games," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "But our defense has had to make big stops."

UCLA's defense was seriously hampered in the second half because of foul trouble. Kapono played the entire second half with four, Watson finished with four, and Barnes fouled out near the end.

"I thought the refs would probably let us play more," said Kapono, who only fouled out of two games this season, once in overtime. "I thought they would let us be more physical and bang more. They started out calling the ticky-tack fouls, so it's kind of hard to play that way."

Most baffling was why he didn't spend the rest of the first half on the bench after picking up his third foul with 3:50 to play. He came out briefly, then reentered and collected his fourth with 23.9 seconds on the clock.

The Blue Devils headed for the locker room with a 33-26 edge, but with the knowledge things could have been much uglier for UCLA had they had a bit more success from behind the arc. Duke made four of 19 (21%) from that range, well below its 39.5% average. But UCLA made only eight of 31 shots overall.

"It was like a lid was on the hoop," Young said. "Duke has a good defense, but it wasn't some kind of phenomenal defense. . . . We're better than we showed. Way better."

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