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Bruins Have Just Enough at the End

Mata is injured, but Washington State misses a layup in the final seconds and UCLA survives, 63-61.

January 13, 2006|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

They defy logic.

Ankles buckle, shoulders tear, bones break. The line to the training room keeps growing for the UCLA Bruins, the holes in their roster larger, the number of starters continually shrinking.

Yet the more players the Bruins lose, the more games they win.

At this rate, they might be able to win a national championship if they could get down to five players.

Sophomore center Lorenzo Mata was the latest to limp off the court, leaving with just over three minutes to play Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion because of a knee injury.

But despite that, despite losing small forward Josh Shipp earlier in the week because of continuing pain from September hip surgery, despite losing all but one point of a 17-point second-half lead, UCLA hung on for a 63-61 victory over Washington State.

The 11th-ranked Bruins improved to 14-2, 4-1 in Pacific 10 Conference play, thanks to a missed layup by Kyle Weaver in the final seconds.

Guard Josh Akognon brought the Cougars back, scoring all of his 25 points in the second half. He made seven of nine from the floor in the half, including six for six from the three-point line.

Guard Arron Afflalo is UCLA's top defender, but, even though he was Akognon's shadow most of the night, he couldn't stop the sophomore guard.

"He was moving a lot," said Afflalo, "and he had three guys screening for him. He ran free wherever he liked. You can't scout that. When he has that kind of confidence, all he needs is space."

When Akognon was fouled behind the three-point line by Afflalo with 28 seconds to go and converted all three free throws, the UCLA lead had dwindled to 60-59.

But Bruin freshman guard Darren Collison responded by going coast-to-coast on a dribble drive and scored on a layup to extend the UCLA lead to three.

Once again, Akognon was fouled, this time on an attempted steal at midcourt, and converted a pair of free throws with 13 seconds to play, again cutting UCLA's lead to one.

Afflalo responded by making one of two free throws at the other end.

Cougar guard Weaver missed his driving layup, and Collison secured the rebound as time expired.

The injury to Mata came as he was racing down the court after a loose ball. The Bruins' starting center collided with teammate Jordan Farmar, the two banging knees. Mata was already playing with a fractured nose suffered last weekend against Arizona State, an injury that has forced him to play with a mask.

Mata had an MRI exam late Thursday night, and the results will be revealed today.

"He has tree-trunk legs," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. "If anybody can bang knees, but avoid a serious injury, it's Lorenzo."

The 24-9 run by the Cougars (9-4, 2-2) to close out the game was in direct contrast to the first half, when they struggled just to get into double figures in points.

Weaver put the first points on the scoreboard with a jumper, but the Cougars didn't score again until just over seven minutes were gone in the half. They didn't get into double figures until there were less than five minutes remaining in the half.

UCLA led, 31-17, at the half, holding the Cougars to 32% shooting (eight for 25) from the floor.

"It was our best defensive half of the season," Howland said.

Part of the credit for that, Howland said, had to go to freshman Michael Roll.

With Shipp gone and Cedric Bozeman, who had been playing small forward at the start of the season, still out because of a shoulder injury, Howland elected to start Roll.

Roll played 16 minutes in UCLA's conference opener against Stanford, a game the Bruins won, 71-54.

But in the next three games, a loss to California and two close wins, Roll had played a total of only 12 minutes. He played 32 minutes Thursday, scoring 10 points.

The victory was UCLA's 25th over Washington State in their last 26 meetings.

"This was a great win," Howland said. "And you have to give credit to these kids. They can handle any kind of adversity."

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