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April 5, 2008
SAN ANTONIO ? UCLA got sped up and out of the Final Four, its third failure in three years on a stage the Bruins used to own.
The bigger Memphis Tigers lured the defensive-minded Bruins into their speed trap and won 78-63 in Saturday night's national semifinal matchup of No. 1 seeds, knocking UCLA out of contention for a record 12th championship.
The Bruins lost in the 2006 title game to Florida and then again to the Gators in last year's semifinals. It's a rerun they're tired of seeing.
"This is what we're going to remember," a glum-looking Josh Shipp said. "They outplayed us."
If John Wooden was watching back in Los Angeles, the 97-year-old architect of UCLA's basketball dynasty must have been a little down. It certainly wasn't the kind of showing expected from a school that practically invented the art of hanging national championship banners.
Asked what needs to change for the Bruins to win at the Final Four, Ben Howland smiled slightly and replied, "Get a new coach maybe."
The Bruins came in 13-4 all-time in semifinal games, including 10-2 under Wooden and now 1-2 under Howland. But they never managed a run against the Tigers in a rematch of the 1973 title game, when Bill Walton shot 21-of-22 for 44 points and the Bruins won.
"They played better than we thought they were going to play," Darren Collison said. "We knew they were very good, but we thought with our defensive abilities we were going to cause a little havoc."
Russell Westbrook led the Bruins (35-4) with a career-high 22 points. Freshman Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute added 12 points each. Mbah a Moute had 13 rebounds, while Love managed just nine against Joey Dorsey, who went scoreless but had 15 of Memphis' 43 rebounds. The Bruins grabbed 36.
"I was just trying to make it hard for him to catch the ball," Dorsey said.
Collison, a three-time Final Four veteran, went 1-for-9 with two points and fouled out. The junior who dictates UCLA's offense and defense had more fouls (11) than baskets (nine) in his last three NCAA tournament games.
"To get here three times in a row and not to win all those three times, it's really frustrating," Collison said. "You're always thinking how I can get over that hump. Last year it was painful. This year, it's even more painful."
The 15-point loss was UCLA's worst of the season and snapped its 14-game winning streak.
The speed-crazy Tigers (38-1) crashed the boards and dunked pretty much at will against a UCLA team that hadn't played such an athletic opponent all season. Chris Douglas-Roberts scored 28 points and vaunted freshman Derrick Rose added 25. The Tigers outscored the Bruins 14-2 in fastbreak points.
"It seemed like every time we shot a quick shot or shot an uncharacteristic shot they were down the floor with less than five seconds in transition, scoring another bucket," Love said. "We didn't drop our heads, but it just seemed like they got some breaks. Sometimes you need that."
Westbrook scored inside to get the Bruins within nine early in the second half and ran back down the court waving his arms, exhorting his teammates.
Moments later, Rose stole a move out of Love's playbook, sending an outlet pass to Antonio Anderson, who scored an easy layup for a 50-41 lead.
Soon after, Collison and Westbrook picked up their third fouls. Without any reliable guards to replace them, the Bruins muddled along.
"It's hard to run with a team that has this much depth the whole game," Douglas-Roberts said. "We can bring three or four off the bench and they're all running, too."
Douglas-Roberts dunked over Love, sending him and UCLA's hopes crashing to the floor. Love nearly disappeared in the second half because of double-teams, when the Bruins went long stretches without scoring.
"It just seemed like everybody was clicking. Even their 'four' man was hitting shots that we didn't expect him to hit," Collison said. "Once that happens and the whole team is rolling, it's real hard to stop a team."
Memphis came flying out of the opening tip and quickly had the Bruins down 17-12. Howland called time out and his team regrouped, outscoring the Tigers 11-7 to trail by one.
As if the Tigers' ball pressure wasn't enough, the Bruins did themselves in on a series of miscues. James Keefe had a rebound on his fingers and tipped it out of bounds. Westbrook turned the ball over while inbounding it, then stole the ball only to miss his shot. Collison traveled, then Keefe traveled, and Collison stepped out of bounds on the sideline after snagging a steal.
Now, Collison, Westbrook and Love have to decide whether their futures are in Westwood or the NBA.
"I'm not even thinking about that," Collison said. "We just lost a tough game."