No. 1 UCLA Cruises Past No. 3 Xavier for Third Straight Final Four Bid
March 29, 2008
PHOENIX (AP) - After flirting with trouble for two rounds, the top-seeded Bruins blitzed Xavier 76-57 Saturday to earn their third straight trip to the Final Four and record 18th overall.
Freshman Kevin Love scored 19 points, had 10 rebounds and was picked as the most outstanding player of the West Regional. Behind him, the Bruins (35-3) rediscovered the game that had made them a No. 1 seed.
It's the Bruins' longest string of Final Four appearances since they closed the John Wooden era with nine straight trips and added a 10th consecutive trip in 1976 under his successor, Gene Bartow.
UCLA plays the Memphis-Texas winner in the national semifinal in San Antonio on April 5.
At times on Saturday, Ben Howland's Bruins looked every bit as dominant as Wooden's finer squads, annihilating a proud Xavier (30-7) team that had set a school record for victories.
Leading by nine at halftime, the Bruins snuffed out third-seeded Xavier's comeback hopes with a 14-0 run early in the second half.
The rest of the game was one long advertisement for the powder blue and gold, with a partisan crowd rocking U.S. Airways Center with chants of 'U-C-L-A!'
Derrick Brown had 13 points for Xavier.
This matched Xavier's deepest foray into the NCAA brackets. The Musketeers had reached the regional final once before, in 2004.
UCLA came in with a 13-game winning streak, but the Bruins had not been dominant, especially in their last two tourney games. They sweated out a two-point victory over No. 9-seeded Texas A&M in the second round and nearly blew a 21-point lead against 12th-seeded Western Kentucky in the third.
After the too-tight victory over the Hilltoppers, Love called the Bruins' play 'unacceptable.'
It wasn't much better early on against Xavier. After turning the ball over a season-high 19 times in the third round, the Bruins had 10 turnovers in the first half on Saturday.
But the Musketeers only scored two points off those turnovers - and it cost them when UCLA finally settled down.
Leading 24-20, the Bruins closed the first half on a 9-4 run. The leader of the charge was Mbah a Moute, who has been slowed by a sprained ankle.
Mbah a Moute scored five straight points, all of them as a result of some gritty work on the offensive boards. Then Collison dribbled down the clock and hit a jumper over Stanley Burrell, the Atlantic 10's Defensive Player of the Year, to send the Bruins into the dressing room with a 33-24 lead.
The biggest bucket may have come when Love pulled down an offensive rebound on a missed free throw, then fired the ball to Collison loitering beyond the arc. Collison hit the 3-pointer and UCLA led 43-28.
A few minutes later, Love buried a 3-pointer and the Bruins led by 20.