Sunday Wasn't Too Sunny For SoCal

By Josh Herwitt - December 02, 2007


LOS ANGELES -- So you know all that talk about how the Pac-10 is supposedly the best conference in the country?

Well, the Big 12 has something to say about that now.

At least No. 8 Texas does after stunning No. 2 UCLA with a 63-61 victory Sunday night at Pauley Pavilion in what looked like a NCAA Tournament game on the second day of December.

"I'm happy how we handled the big-time atmosphere," Texas coach Rick Barnes offered after seeing Luc Richard Mbah a Moute miss a game-winning three from the right wing at the buzzer. "We play in a conference like UCLA, so we were ready for this type of atmosphere."

Damion James certainly was, as the 6-foot-7 sophomore threw down the game-winning dunk on a D.J. Augustin miss to seal the win and up his point total to a team-leading 19 points. Augustin, on that same front, wasn't too shabby himself, matching James' 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting, but none was bigger than his three from the left wing with 2:59 remaining to cut UCLA's lead to one.

"I told D.J. that Collison had his hands down, so just raise up and shoot the three," Barnes said. "I have a philosophy that if you're open and you get your feet set and it's in the rhythm of the offense, I want you to take the shot."

While James and Augustin were crucial to the Longhorns' success throughout the game, free throws, including a miss from Mbah a Moute on the front end of a one-and-one with the Bruins leading by one with 29 seconds left, were what ultimately dashed UCLA's chances of making a second-half comeback after trailing by 11 at halftime.

"That's on me," Mbah a Moute said of the crucial miss. "I gotta make free throws."

"They made big plays down the stretch, especially Augustin's huge shot when [they were] down four points," UCLA coach Ben Howland added. "Unfortunately, we missed some free throws, but you have to credit Texas. They did a good job beating us off the dribble and scoring in the low post."

But it was just as much UCLA's offense that left the Bruins stunned as Darren Collison fell to the floor after seeing Mbah a Moute's last-second shot bounce off the front of the rim. The Bruins, after all, shot just 28.6 percent from three-point range and a dismal 16.7 percent in the first half after taking nearly half of their field goal attempts from behind the arc.

And when your freshman phenom in Kevin Love only takes six shots (finishing with 11 points, five rebounds and two assists), it's often a result of settling for too many long-range jumpshots, something the Bruins were guilty of with Texas playing a 2-3 zone for much of the game.

"We missed open looks in the first half," Howland explained. "We gotta do a better job of getting Kevin the ball in the high post. We got to get him more touches in the elbow areas."

Howland, though, wasn't the only one for UCLA who saw a need for more improvement. His players, in fact, were even harder on themselves as they addressed the media during the post-game press conference.

"The bottom line is, we didn't play defense," Collison confessed. "I take full credit for that."

"I got to seek the ball out more," Love maintained. "I take a lot of responsibility for that. Five rebounds is unacceptable on my part. I should be boxing out and seeking out every rebound I can."

But for as many injuries as the Bruins have had this this season, between Collison's sprained knee, Michael Roll's ruptured foot and James Keefe's rehab from shoulder surgery, losing to a team in Westwood for the first time in 25 games might just be the wake-up call that Howland and his players need before Pac-10 play begins in a month.

"They did a great job and outplayed us, and that's on us," said junior Josh Shipp, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds and shot 3-of-7 from three-point range. "We have to take a look in the mirror and see what we have to do better next time."

"[This game] just simply tells us that we're not ready," Collison pronounced. "We're not where we need to be. Ultimately this game is a learning experience, and hopefully we can take the bad with the good and go on from there."

Meanwhile across town, it was a similar story for No. 22 USC, who jumped out to a 10-point lead in the first half but ultimately didn't do enough after halftime to leave the Galen Center with a win.

A deeper and more experienced Kansas squad, one that ranks No. 4 in the country, instead was the team that made the plays when it had to, getting the biggest basket of the game with 20 seconds remaining when Mario Chalmers stepped into a 25-foot three-pointer and nailed it over star-studded freshman O.J. Mayo.

"It was a big win, especially on the road," Kansas coach Bill Self said after the Jayhawks secured a 59-55 victory over the Trojans. "We feel that the Pac-10 is the toughest conference in the country. It was not pretty, but it was a win."

Perimeter shooting from the Jayhawks was never pretty on Sunday, as Self's team managed to knock down only 37.9 percent of its shots, including just four of 17 from three (23.5 percent).

"We just had to keep our composure and finish the game strong," said Chalmers, who finished with a game-high 20 points, seven rebounds and three steals. "The first half we were a little too anxious and hyped up for the game. They had us playing their game."

"We were horrible at the beginning of the game," Self admitted. "We started off the game by scoring six points in 10 minutes, but the lid never came off. We rushed shots, but it will come around and we will get in the groove."

What transpired in the second half was a different story, as Kansas picked it up after halftime by shooting better from the field and free throw line and keeping USC off the boards with a 42-30 rebounding edge.

That differential on the glass can be partly attributed to the disappearance of sophomore forward Taj Gibson, who finished with just two points and five rebounds before fouling out with 2:10 left to play in the game.

"Taj's absence was significant," USC coach Tim Floyd said during his post-game press conference. "He's been our primary rebounder. We got beat on the boards."

The Jayhawks also showed their experience and poise, something that Floyd's team is still working to discover with three sophomores and two freshmen in its starting lineup.

"We played our hearts out," Mayo said after leading his team with 19 points in addition to five rebounds and two assists. "When you lose you just want to leave it all out on the floor, and I think we did that. We lost our poise the last nine minutes, but this game will get us better as a team."

But even after outshooting their opponent and forcing the Jayhawks to commit 22 turnovers (in comparison to USC's 18), it still wasn't enough in the end.

"We're fighters," Chalmers asserted. "When the going gets tough, we get tougher. I think we proved that last year, and we just keep proving it."

And with the way Kansas and Texas left Los Angeles Sunday with two crucial wins over two talented teams, the Big 12 is quickly proving that it's no slouch of a conference either.

Posted by Josh Herwitt at 10:47 PM on December 02, 2007
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I'm going to kill these shoes!

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