March 31, 2006
By Bryan Armen Graham
Assistant Editor, CSTV.com
Bryan is a basketball editor for CSTV.com and contributes on a regular weekly basis.
Around the college basketball world, the words speak for themselves: Year Three under Ben Howland.
In his third season at
In Westwood, the one-eighty specialist has one-upped himself during his third year at the helm of college basketball's most decorated program, leading the Bruins (31-6) to their first Final Four appearance since winning the national title in 1995.
But this isn't your daddy's UCLA. Where the great John Wooden teams won 10 national championships over 12 seasons on the strength of an overwhelming offense, Howland has brought his signature blue-collar defensive approach to
The Bruins haven't lost since a 71-68 setback at USC on Feb. 19. Since, Howland's club has managed to tighten the screws of its already-formidable defense -- during the 11-game winning streak it carries into Saturday's national semifinal, the Bruins have allowed just 54.7 points per game. Only Gonzaga has managed to crack 60 points during the streak.
The bulk of UCLA's offense comes from a tandem of talented sophomore guards -- Aaron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar. The classmates, who were named honorable mention All-Americans this week, have combined to average 29.6 points for Howland. First-year forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is the team's leading rebounder -- with 8.1 pulls per game -- while averaging a healthy 8.9 points.
Seniors Cedric Bozeman and Ryan Hollins round out Howland's starting five.
Highest High: The Bruins won their first Pac-10 Tournament title since 1987 with a convincing 71-52 victory over California on Mar. 11. Farmar paced four Bruins in double figures with 19 points and
Lowest Low: UCLA's only losing "streak" of the season happened to coincide with its most unseemly loss. The aforementioned loss to a mediocre USC team came on the heels of a road setback at Washington (the back-end of a season sweep at the hands of the Huskies). It wasn't quite enough to unseat the Bruins from their perch atop the Pac-10 standings -- but it gave the teams in pursuit a glimmer of home coming down the stretch. At any rate, UCLA hasn't dropped a contest since.
Biggest Shot: Mbah a Moute's lay-up that capped UCLA's miracle come-from-behind victory over Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen may endure as the signature play of this tournament. The Bruins needed to score the last 11 points of the game during a furious rally to secure the 73-71 victory, a game that the Bulldogs had controlled for the first 37 minutes.
X-Factor: UCLA's underrated man in the middle will need to play one of his best games of the season if the Bruins hope to survive their battle with
Why They Can Win It All: Defense, defense, defense. Howland has this team playing a suffocating brand of ball on the defensive end. In a 50-45 victory over Memphis in the Oakland Regional Final, the Bruins held John Calipari's high-octane offense to 31 points below its season average. If UCLA can prevent its opponents from scoring the basketball as well as it has over the past month, then the Bruins should be celebrating their Division I-best 12th national championship Monday night.
Deserving Mention: UCLA's underperformance from the free-throw line throughout the NCAA Tournament has been shaky enough to give coronaries to high school coaches around the nation. Some of their victories, simply put, have been much closer than they've had to be. In their 62-59 win over
UCLA coach Ben Howland