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Final Four Is Twice As Nice

'Ben Ball' stifles Kansas as UCLA Advances in NCAA Tourney

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By Jack Feuer

Published Mar 26, 2007 9:20 AM


UCLA Athletics Site

Men's Basketball

It's time for Ben Ball, the sequel. For the second consecutive year, and the first time since the storied Wooden Era, UCLA has made it to back-to-back Final Fours. On Saturday, Coach Ben Howland's Bruins used their by-now trademark stifling defense to beat Kansas, 68-55, in HP Pavilion in San Jose. Leading the way — in a big game even The New York Times mused might earn him a spot in UCLA's basketball pantheon — was All-American junior Arron Afflalo, with 24 points.

The game was a steal — literally. In all, there were 32 thefts in the contest, 15 by UCLA (30-5), but plenty of clutch shots. Triple plays by Afflalo (a trey with 10 minutes to go), Darren Collison (a breathtaking three-pointer from 25 feet out with less than five to play) and perhaps most importantly for momentum, Josh Shipp's 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to put the Bruins up 35-31.

UCLA Documentary, "The UCLA Dynasty," on HBO

LA Times story

The arena — home ice for the NHL's Sharks — was rocking to a blue-and-gold beat, with the Golden State crowd heavily favoring the Bruins over fans of the Jayhawks (33-5). They witnessed the pinpoint execution of another of Coach Howland's patented suffocating defensive game plans, causing CBS analyst Seth Davis to sardonically muse later about "all these [Tournament] teams having off shooting nights when they play UCLA."

Kansas became the first No. 1 seed to be ousted from the tournament. The loss snapped a 14-game winning streak. The 55-points it scored marked KU's second-lowest-scoring game in its Tourney history. And the proud program is now 0 for 5 against UCLA in NCAA Tournament play.

No wonder a poster on UCLA superfan blog Bruinsnation.com was moved to metaphysics. "I will never get tired of writing Thank God for Ben Howland," he wrote.

The win propelled the Westwood squad to an NCAA-record 17th Final Four appearance and a revenge match against Florida, the team that beat UCLA for the championship last year.

That contest, to be played this Saturday, March 31, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, is one the entire Bruin squad has been hungering to get to for a whole year. But none more than Afflalo, who was born at the UCLA Medical Center, was the first player recruited by Howland four years ago, and is determined to leave his mark on one of the most famous hoops program in the nation. This year's run to the Final quartet "feels even better than last year," he told the Los Angeles Times, but "we need to feel this and do a little better."

A poster on the March Madness blog summed it up: "It's Bruin Time...go play to your legacy."

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