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Diane Pucin / ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Bruins Still Get No Respect

April 02, 2006|Diane Pucin

INDIANAPOLIS — When UCLA won the Pacific 10 Conference, it was because the Pac-10 wasn't very good. Coming back from nine points down in about two minutes to beat Gonzaga? Gonzaga choked. Holding Memphis to 45 points? Ugliest game ever.

Run-up to the Final Four?

Louisiana State was too athletic for the Bruins and Glen "Big Baby" Davis was just too cuddly. The Florida Gators were hot too. Joakim Noah was a Renaissance Man, wasn't he? A mean cross-over dribble, a dizzying spin move, he talked about books and movies and politics, his father was a famous tennis player, his mother a former Swedish model.

Even George Mason was being given more respect than UCLA. The Patriots were full of seniors, coached by a gentle genius, and gifted with good karma because all those television experts had given them no pre-tournament respect.

So what to make of Saturday in the RCA Dome?

Florida beat George Mason, 73-58, because the Patriots weren't good enough. UCLA beat Louisiana State, 59-45, because the Bruins were way too good. That's what happened. Remember that when the national championship game is set up because memories are short.

UCLA scored 39 points in the first half against Louisiana State and probably could have scored 90 if it had not won the game in the first 20 minutes. But the Bruins scored only 59 so they'll be unable to score enough to beat the running, jumping Gators.

Louisiana State was the betting favorite over the Bruins and by Monday, if season-long form holds, we will become convinced that Gator guard Lee Humphrey will never miss a three-point shot because he was six for 12 from that distance against the Patriots, that Noah is the international player of grand renown and never mind UCLA rookie Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, that Al Horford, because he had 13 rebounds against George Mason, will have 23 against UCLA.

"It will be an interesting game," Louisiana State forward Tasmin Mitchell said. "A real battle of different styles, a battle of wills. Florida will score a lot. Should be interesting. Don't know if UCLA can stop them."

When Mitchell was reminded that UCLA had held Memphis to 45 points, same as his team had just scored, he just shrugged his shoulders and said, "Don't think that can happen again."

And what to make of Monday night if UCLA handles the second part of the Southeastern Conference daily double and does to Florida what it did to the Tigers?

Perhaps in the day between games a re-evaluation of West Coast basketball is in order. After all, Washington most surely should have beaten Connecticut and no one has played UCLA better than Gonzaga.

Not that it was the Gators' fault because it was where most of the questions were directed, but their locker room was dominated by talk of the potential all-SEC final, of the matchups with Davis and Tyrus Thomas, of how all this will show how they aren't just football schools.

"If we play LSU, it will be a great, great game," Horford said. And if you play UCLA? "Uh, don't know about that," he said.

"Bring on Big Baby," Florida guard Taurean Green said. "Bring on Tyrus." One suspects Green couldn't name a UCLA player he wanted to bring on.

Even after taking a thorough beating from the Bruins, many of the Tigers seemed baffled by what had happened.

Thomas, the 6-foot-9 freshman who dominated Duke with his shot blocking and rebounding, sat at his locker after playing only 17 minutes and scoring five points, mumbling that there was nothing UCLA had done to contribute to his team's demise.

"Just us, man," he said. "Just us. Didn't execute, man." When asked about Mbah a Moute, Thomas shook his head because he didn't recognize the name. "Oh, yeah, No. 23," he said finally. "I guess he was good."

And, other than Mbah a Moute's 17 points, nine rebounds and two steals, there was no reason Thomas should have known about the UCLA freshman. There was no buzz about Mbah a Moute, who plays his defense with a sound understanding of fundamental man-to-man principles and who gets his rebounds by positioning himself correctly. It was Thomas who had come here with the "wow" factor because he corrected many Tiger defensive mistakes by swatting shots away.

Louisiana State's backup point guard, Ben Voogd, who is from Oregon and brings a greater understanding of UCLA basketball with him than most SEC players, was the one Tiger who seemed to get the Bruins.

"We saw all the film and stuff, but the film doesn't do them justice," he said. "The way they get in the passing lanes, their aggressiveness, how they use their hands, how they use their bodies. It all just happened faster than we expected. I have to say we really hadn't heard that much about UCLA this season. But they came out with so much fire and I think it surprised us."

It surprised guard Garrett Temple. "They were better than we'd heard," he said. It surprised Davis. "Nobody told us they were this good," he said with a soft smile. He was being sarcastic. But just a little.

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