Bring On Duke!
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Steve Lavin sent a message to his team by benchingtwo starters for skipping study hall. UCLA responded the same way it has allseason - by winning.
Jason Kapono scored 15 of his 19 points on 3-pointers to lead thefourth-seeded Bruins to a 75-50 victory over Utah State on Saturday in thesecond round of the NCAA East Regional.
Kapono and forward Matt Barnes both started the game on the bench aspunishment for leaving Friday's study hall session an hour early. It was arisky move by Lavin, who could have ended some of the speculation on his jobsecurity by taking the Bruins into the round of 16.
'I promise parents when I recruit kids that they will be heldaccountable,' Lavin said. 'Coach (John) Wooden always said `The greatestmotivation in college basketball is the bench.' I hope these kids learned fromit.'
Kapono seemed to have learned his lesson. On the court he hit 5-of-73-pointers, off of it he defended Lavin's decision.
'Rules are rules and me and Matt broke them,' he said. 'It was stupid andcoach had every right to do what he did. I'm just lucky it worked out.'
It worked out for the Bruins, who advanced to play top-seeded Duke (31-4)next week in Philadelphia.
And it worked out for Lavin, who improved to 9-4 in NCAA tournament gamesand brought the Bruins (23-8) into the round of 16 for the fourth time in hisfive years as coach.
'If I'm going to struggle, this is a group I want to struggle with,' Lavinsaid. 'This is the first full wave of kids who came in with me as a head coachand I'm proud of that. This is a team of old souls.'
Earl Watson, a senior who Lavin had to talk out of transferring three timesduring his career, was one of the first players to grab the coach for a longembrace when Lavin pulled his starters with 1:30 to play. Kapono and Barnes,who finished with nine points and eight rebounds, both joined in.
'He's our leader, like our father,' Watson said. 'We have a lot ofloyalty and that's what that hug was about. We protect our family.'
Watson finished with 16 points and nine assists and Dan Gadzuric dominatedthe post with 16 points and 14 rebounds.
Shawn Daniels scored 11 points to lead Utah State, which struggled to scorein the first half and folded under UCLA's full-court press in the second half.
'It seemed like we came out scared as a team,' Utah State center DimitriJorssen said. 'We had this worry that they were these great athletes - anddon't get me wrong they're a very talented basketball team - but we were kindof fearing them in a way that was not needed.'
Utah State (28-6) had no problems with the Bruins' vaunted press in thefirst half, when the Aggies could easily move the ball across the court. Butthey struggled to hit shots, missing 22 consecutive attempts over a 14-minutespan while falling into a 24-11 hole.
They finally ended the drought on Curtis Bobb's 3-pointer with 2:54 left inthe half and only trailed 30-19 at the break.
'That's what makes us feel worse, that even though we did not play good, wewere in the game for a long time,' Jorssen said. 'I'll always wonder whatwould have happened if we had played like we always play. Not even great, justlike we usually play.'
UCLA backed off the press at the start of the second half and Utah Statedidn't have to work so hard for offense - the Aggies opened the period with a13-4 run to cut it to 34-30 on Bernard Rock's 3-pointer with 13:27 to play.
That's when UCLA turned up the heat and Utah State couldn't adjust. TheBruins didn't allow Utah State to get the ball past midcourt on three straightpossessions and converted all three turnovers into an explosive six-pointspurt.
Gadzuric had a thundering dunk to start the run. Rock then turned the ballover in a double-team right outside the 3-point line and Barnes turned it intoa UCLA layup.
Daniels then threw away the inbound pass as he desperately looked for anopen man, Barnes got the ball and tossed it in for 49-36 lead.
Kapono sealed the game after Daniels missed a fast-break dunk. The Bruinsgot the rebound and threw a full-court pass to Kapono, who hit a 3-pointer fora 53-38 lead with 7:09 to play.
By JENNA FRYER
AP Sports Writer