- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

OAKLAND, Calif. — Before rushing to cut down the nets, UCLA’s players and coaches stayed on the podium and led their fans in a popular school cheer.


That’s right, the Bruins are back. College basketball’s most storied program is going to the Final Four again. Arron Afflalo, coach Ben Howland and the rest of the Bruins have returned UCLA to the lofty level of its glory years.

Afflalo scored 15 points and shut down Memphis leading scorer Rodney Carney, helping No. 2 seed UCLA defeat the top-seeded Tigers 50-45 last night and earn a trip to Indianapolis for its first Final Four appearance since the school’s 1995 NCAA championship.

“This is special and this is a special group of guys,” UCLA senior Cedric Bozeman said. “We play defense. That’s what we do. We didn’t let them walk over us.”

Ryan Hollins added 14 points, nine rebounds and drew two charges on defense as the cold-shooting Bruins won their 11th straight game to capture the Oakland Region in the lowest-scoring regional final since the shot-clock era began in 1986.

UCLA (31-6) will play in next Saturday’s semifinals against LSU, a 70-60 overtime winner over Texas in the Atlanta Region final earlier in the day.

The Bruins have 11 national titles — more than any other school — 10 under Hall of Fame coach John Wooden starting in the mid-1960s. They are making their 16th Final Four appearance, tying North Carolina for the most ever.

“This program is where it is right now, as the greatest tradition in all of college basketball, the greatest history in all of college basketball,” Howland said. “Eleven national championships. It all starts with Coach Wooden.

“I think our team embodies the spirit of what Coach is all about, which is teamwork, which is unselfish play, which is a commitment at both ends of the floor to play together.”

After the final buzzer, the ecstatic Bruins quickly pulled on new T-shirts and hats. Hollins cradled the regional’s Most Outstanding Player trophy with his right arm while Darren Collison climbed the ladder to be the first to clip the net.

“At UCLA, no other banners but national championships go up,” Bruins point guard Jordan Farmar said. “We haven’t really done anything in the eyes of UCLA and UCLA fans.”

Darius Washington Jr. scored 13 points to lead the Tigers (33-4), who saw their seven-game winning streak end along with the career of Carney, a possible NBA lottery pick who hoped to play his final game in his hometown of Indianapolis for the Final Four.

As both teams expected, this wasn’t nearly the high-scoring game they played last time, when Memphis won 88-80 behind 26 points from Shawne Williams in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT in November at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The 88 points are the most UCLA’s defense has allowed this season and Williams’ 26 the highest individual performance against the Bruins.

Defense has become the Bruins’ trademark, a stark contrast from the last time UCLA won the title. The ‘95 Bruins beat Connecticut 102-96 in the regional final in an up-and-down game. These Bruins aren’t even close to the offensive juggernaut of that ‘95 team with Ed O’Bannon and Tyus Edney.

UCLA won despite going 4-for-17 in the second half and shooting 35 percent.

“We never got going offensively but they didn’t either,” Farmar said. “I know I didn’t do anything special offensively, but I’m the happiest guy on the planet.”

Memphis’ only field goal in the first 8:24 of the second half yesterday didn’t even go in the basket. Washington got credit for the points on a goaltending call.

UCLA got this far by surviving close games, and this time by surviving serious free-throw woes. The Bruins, 20-for-39 at the line, pulled off an improbable 73-71 comeback win over Gonzaga in the third round after beating Alabama 62-59 in their second NCAA game. UCLA rallied from nine points down in the final 3:27 to beat the Zags.

The hyper Howland, who has turned around the program in three years, slid along his bench all game. He even raised his arms in the air late as a call for the fans to get more involved in the program’s first final eight appearance since 1997.

Close to three-quarters of the fans in the sold-out crowd sported Bruins’ powder blue and gold. Former UCLA great Bill Walton was among them.

Memphis shot 2-for-17 on 3-pointers and Carney was held to five points on 2-for-12 shooting in his final college game. Afflalo swarmed Carney at every chance, only two days after defending national scoring leader Adam Morrison.

Carney knelt in the center circle after the game. A teammate tried to console him, and Carney motioned him away while workers began to set up for UCLA’s ceremony.

“Most of the shots I missed were open layups,” Carney said. “I’m disappointed in myself. I couldn’t knock down shots. I missed almost every shot I took. He played great defense on me, but I played terrible.”

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