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A Working Title

Blue-collar Bruins use their trademark defense to shut down Cal, 71-52, in final

March 12, 2006|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

The Pacific 10 Conference tournament championship trophy was tucked under the arm of senior center Ryan Hollins. And the net from one of the baskets at Staples Center was around the neck of freshman Darren Collison.

It was nearly an hour after UCLA had won the Pac-10 tournament late Saturday afternoon by beating California, 71-52, and nobody on the Bruins seemed to want to let go of the moment.

Ahead lies the NCAA tournament, but that could wait for another day.

Saturday, the Bruins were content to soak in their first conference tournament championship since 1987 a week after winning their first regular-season title in nine seasons, happy to revel in a 27-6 record, including a seven-game winning streak heading into the Big Dance.

"For our players, this is the greatest time of their lives," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. "This is fun."

Any discussion of the Bruins must begin with defense, and so it was again Saturday.

With slightly more than 4 1/2 minutes to play in the first half, UCLA had a 16-point lead over the Golden Bears.

But the Bruins knew all too well these Bears were capable of clawing their way back.

The Bruins remembered their first game against Cal back on New Year's Eve, when it was the Bears who were celebrating after a 68-61 victory in Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins clearly remembered last week in Berkeley, where they had to go to overtime to escape with a 67-58 win.

And who can ever forget Leon Powe, the 6-8, 240-pound power forward, emphasis on the power? He was coming off a 41-point effort Friday night in a double-overtime victory over Oregon, which followed his 22-point, 20-rebound effort against USC in Cal's tournament opener.

Sure enough, the Bears made a run. And sure enough, it was led by Powe.

With inside defenders Hollins, Alfred Aboya and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute all in foul trouble, Cal went on a 13-0 run to close the half, with Powe scoring eight of those 13 points.

When Powe opened the second half by scoring on a short jump shot, it was a one-point game with UCLA ahead, 32-31.

"We weren't panicked," Farmar said. "We had just gotten away from what we do."

"We are used to facing adversity," UCLA's Cedric Bozeman said. "We are mentally tough."

They proved it. Powe only had four more points the rest of the way. And without the momentum he had supplied, the Golden Bears were outscored 39-21 the rest of the way, enabling UCLA to cruise to victory.

"I would beat the first [defender]," said Powe, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, "but the next man was just a few steps behind. And the next man was just a few steps behind him. They had good help. They would come on a double [team], sit back for a little bit and then come on a double again to keep you off balance."

Though it would have been understandable, Powe would not use fatigue as an excuse. Nor would any of his teammates. But it figured to be a factor.

While UCLA won easily over Arizona in the early semifinal Friday, Cal, scheduled to play the late game and then forced to go two overtime periods, didn't walk off the court until 11:34 p.m. Tipoff Saturday arrived slightly less than 16 hours later.

"That's life," Powe said. "You have to deal with it."

The Bruins held Cal to 39.6% shooting from the field while connecting at a 53.1% rate themselves.

After becoming the first team in tournament history to hold opponents under 60 points in consecutive games, the Bruins extended that record Saturday in winning their second title in the nine-year history of an event that began in 1987, was not held from 1991 to 2001 and was resurrected in 2002.

Offensively, UCLA was led by guard Jordan Farmar, who had a game-high 19 points, making five of eight attempts from three-point range.

"I was blessed with a lot of good looks at the basket," Farmar said. "I haven't had that many good looks all year."

Guard Ayinde Ubaka scored 18 points for Cal (20-10), which outrebounded UCLA, 28-26.

But the final score was the only number the Bruins focused on in the locker room afterward.

"This is something to remember," said Collison, still wearing that net around his neck.

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