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UCLA shuts down LSU, moves within a game of its 12th crown
INDIANAPOLIS -- Oh, Baby, can UCLA play defense.
Throw some offense in there on the same night and not even LSU and its gigantic star, Glen "Big Baby" Davis, had a chance. The Bruins shut him down Saturday en route to a 59-45 victory over the Tigers that put them one win away from their 12th national title.
The last step in the quest to hang another banner at Pauley Pavilion comes Monday in the final against Florida, a 73-58 winner over George Mason in the first semifinal.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was UCLA's top performer in this one, finishing with 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting, to go with nine rebounds. But he got plenty of help.
Lorenzo Mata dominated the middle, capping Davis at least twice, sending him to the floor a few other times and generally driving him nuts. LSU's 6-foot-9, 310-pound star -- arguably the most entertaining character in this tournament -- didn't look so big in this one.
He shot 5-for-17, finished with 14 points and seven rebounds and was serenaded with chants of "Ba-by, Ba-by" by the UCLA fans after he took a frustration foul on Bruins guard Darren Collison early in the second half, trailing by 23.
The 45 points for LSU were the second-lowest total in the Final Four since the NCAA adopted the shot clock in 1986 and matched UCLA's defensive effort against Memphis in the regional championship game.
Bruins forward Alfred Aboya set the tone early in the first half when he swatted Darrel Mitchell's shot into the stands, then glowered at Mitchell as he fell to the floor. A few minutes later, Mbah a Moute stepped into an LSU passing lane for a steal that led to a bucket for Collison.
On offense, the Bruins (32-6) were just as good, especially early. They made three of their first four 3-pointers and shot 58 percent in the first half to push their lead to as many as 16, 3 1/2 minutes before the break.
The start of the second half put it out of reach.
Mbah a Moute dunked twice, Ryan Hollins took an alley-oop from Jordan Farmar for another slam, then Farmar threw one up from 28 feet with the shot clock going off and swished it for a 48-27 lead. He celebrated by taunting the LSU fans as he ran to the other end. Most of the purple-and-gold crowd simply sat there stoically -- they knew a mismatch when they saw one.
LSU (27-9) remained winless in its four appearances at the Final Four, spanning a half-century, and a special season that provided a needed distraction from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina down in Louisiana ended on a down note.
Led by Davis and tall, lanky forward Tyrus Thomas, the Tigers prided themselves, too, on monster defense this season. They made UCLA look less-than-perfect -- forcing 17 turnovers and a fair amount of ugly offense -- but few will remember the Bruins' flaws from this one.
More will remember how hard Davis had to work to get so little. He put up most of his points after the game was a blowout and looked nothing like the juggernaut who helped John Brady's team to upsets over Duke and Texas in the Atlanta Regional last week.
The sophomore center made a pair of free throws with 11:03 left in the game to finally push the Tigers past the 30-point mark. On his next trip down, he missed from close range, got his own rebound and forced one in to set up a three-point play. The whole sequence left him huffing and puffing as he pounded the ball onto the floor -- a mild success on an otherwise frustrating evening.
He fouled out with 2:09 left and clapped his hands as he headed toward the bench, then exchanged hugs before flopping down on the bench for the last time.
Forward Tasmin Mitchell scored 12 points for the Tigers. Darrel Mitch was held to eight, nine points below his season average. LSU shot 16-for-50, 32 percent, didn't make a 3-pointer and committed 15 turnovers -- a bad night no matter how you cut it.
Farmar made two 3-pointers in the first half to go with his desperation heave in the second and finished with 12 points. Guard Arron Afflalo was another long, tall distraction on defense and had nine points and six boards.
UCLA's gritty style of winning might not look familiar to the faithful who watched John Wooden's teams run up and down in the history-making '60s and '70s, when the Bruins set the standard for winning -- and doing it the right way.
Wooden hardly shirked defense. The big difference is that UCLA's current coach, Ben Howland, insists on it. He made no apologies for turning the Bruins into a hard-nosed, scrappy team, one that looks more suited for the Big East than the Left Coast.
Players who come to UCLA, he boasted, want to win titles and go to the pros, and defense is a big part of both. After this Final Four effort, it was hard to argue the point.