- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 22, 2009

PHILADELPHIA | UCLA’s run of consecutive Final Four appearances ended at three after Villanova bumped the Bruins - literally - out of the bracket.

The third-seeded Wildcats pulped UCLA to earn their fourth berth in the Sweet 16 in the past five seasons, manhandling the sixth-seeded Bruins 89-69 in an NCAA tournament second-round game before an adoring capacity crowd of 19,694 at Wachovia Center.

The suspenseful portion of the East Region contest ended when Villanova sophomore guard Corey Fisher followed a 3-pointer with a three-point play to extend his squad’s lead to 57-35 with 16:30 remaining.

Competitively speaking, perhaps the game was over much earlier. With 7:07 left in the first half and the Wildcats (28-7) leading 33-17, UCLA All-America guard Darren Collison (15 points, five turnovers) stood at halfcourt during a break for free throws and complained to lead official John Cahill about the game’s physical nature.

At the time, Collison sported a swollen lip suffered in a loose-ball scrum. Collison’s ballyhooed freshman backcourt mate, Jrue Holiday, was on the bench with a trainer tending to the bridge of his nose, which had encountered a Villanova elbow under the boards. UCLA swingman Josh Shipp (18 points) already had been taken to the floor by Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds (11 points, no turnovers) during a baseline dunk attempt in the game’s opening sequence. And senior banger Alfred Aboya was at the line after his dunk attempt was emphatically grounded by Villanova’s Dante Cunningham (18 points, 10 rebounds).

“They were a physical team,” Collison said. “I was just talking to the official because I thought they were fouling a little too hard. Maybe I was just getting frustrated, but we’ve got to be able to bounce back from that. We see how they’re playing, and we’ve got to be able to match their intensity and the physicality. It was too late for that.”

The Wildcats, who had 16 offensive rebounds and benefited from 20 UCLA turnovers, move on to face No. 2 seed Duke in Boston on Thursday. Villanova coach Jay Wright is cautiously optimistic that his team is peaking at just the right time. When he cleared his bench with several minutes to play, Wright gathered his starters and held a surprisingly demonstrative meeting for a coach whose team was leading by 24 points.

“We haven’t really played 40 minutes all season,” said Wright, who got 39 points, 21 rebounds and six assists from his D.C. area trio of Reynolds (Herndon), Cunningham (Silver Spring) and Dwayne Anderson (Sliver Spring). “We’ve had games where we’ve had leads and gotten kind of lackadaisical. I just wanted them to understand how important of a game this was. And they played 40 minutes. Look what the results can be, how good they can be.”

UCLA coach Ben Howland agreed with that assessment after watching his normally stingy Bruins (29-6) surrender a season-high 89 points in the most lopsided NCAA tournament loss of his UCLA career.

“I just told [Wright] that I think Villanova has a real chance of moving forward in this tournament,” Howland said. “Whoever’s going to put them out is going to be a very good team. They’re very, very talented and very well-coached. Obviously, they have a veteran group of guys. All their major players are seniors or juniors, with the exception of Fisher.

“That’s a very good team.”

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