Final Four: I know UCLA doesn't want to hear this right now, but - good season Bruins.

By Eric Sorenson - March 31, 2007


Okay, so the Bruins went down tonight by a 76-66 count to Florida here at the Georgia Dome. Granted. But let's Big Picture this thing...

UCLA lost two NBA draftees off last year's team, Jordan Farmar and Ryan Hollins, along with a dependable senior in Cedric Bozeman. They brought in a couple of Frosh, but James Keefe and Russell Westbrook weren't difference-makers as first year players.

And yet, the Bruins finished the season at 30-6 and in the Final Four for the second straight year. Had it not been for the return of the Florida five juggernaut, this may have been UCLA's year to get back in the winner's circle.

Even UofF coach Billy Donovan said after tonight's game that going back and studying the films of last year's win over UCLA did them no good. "I just thought for our team we needed to understand that UCLA was different and they were better than a year ago."

Pretty heady words considering the aforementioned losses off last year's squad.

The emergence of Darren Collison had to be the most important and pleasant development for Ben Howland's team. The National Defensive Player of the Year was an impact player from the first tip of the season and did a better job of distributing the ball than Farmar did last year. He was, in the words of former UCLA coach Steve Lavin, the guy that shared the sugar to all the shooters.

Aaron Afflalo became a more demonstrative leader, despite some spells where he vanished from games. His scoring was great, but his the example he set was the most important part of this team.

The inside play of Lorenzo Mata and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute got better as the year went on and made this post-season run possible. They weren't dominant by any means, but they were mean as rattlesnakes on defense, especially in tournament games with Pitt and Kansas.

Josh Shipp was the X-factor. Out all of last year due to injury, his return signaled a secondary go-to guy at key times. Like in the first half tonight, he seemed to pick up his game when the team needed a boost. His first half didn't go unnotinced by Florida's Billy Donovan, "Give Josh Shipp a lot of credit. He stepped up and played well in the first half." He had 14 points at the half, going 6-of-10 and single-handedly being the one reason the Bruins were only down by six.

The upshot of this loss and the promise of tomorrow was echoed by Ben Howland in the post-game news conference, "We've got no seniors in the program. I'm thinking that we're going to be a very good team and very competitive team next year."

Howland expanded a bit on the new prospects for next year as well, "Kevin Love, who is one of the top players in the country, if not the best kid in the country is joining us. He gives us a very good inside presense. Then we're also getting the Los Angeles City Player of the Year in Chase Stanback."

Howland readily admitted his team's current state of frustration. "Our players are hurting right now. They're deeply disappointed. You know, we've got to bounce back. But I'm excited about our team for next year."

Again, good season UCLA. It's little solace right now, but Bruin fans can take heart in the silver lining being two things: 1- Ben Howland is still your coach. And 2- You guys aren't going to go away anytime soon.

Posted by Eric Sorenson at 11:58 PM on March 31, 2007
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