March 24, 2007

San Jose: Famous last words

UCLA wins 68-55 and advances to the Final Four (not like you didn't know that).

First off, the all-tournament team:

Jamal Tatum, Southern Illinois
Russel Robinson, Kansas
Darren Collison, UCLA
Brandon Rush, Kansas
Aaron Afflalo, UCLA

MVP: Aaron Afflalo

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Key plays of the game:
1- At the end of the first half, Aaron Afflalo penetrates into the key, but kicks out a pass to Josh Shipp in the corner, who buries the three as the horn sounds to put UCLA up 35-31 at the half.
2- With the shot clock winding down in the second half, point guard Darren Collison puts up an NBA three-pointer and sinks it to give UCLA an 8-point advantage and ignite the pro-Bruin crowd.

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Bill Self:
For the last 25 minutes of the game, they controlled the game. I think we got sped up. I thought our guards got a little careless. We overpenetrated, should have been driving to the dish more. But you know, the kids were trying so hard. I mean, being sped up on defense is great, but we needed to flip it; you need to be sped up on defense and relaxed on offense.

Both teams can guard. Heck, we had 17 steals and forced 25 turnovers. But you've got to make shots and they made theirs.

I'd much rather play in the game (and not make the Final Four) than not be in it. But it hurts. This is a hard-working profession to put yourself in this position. But I'm not going to look and say "poor pitiful me." It's not about that.

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Ben Howland:
We beat the best team we played all year. For sure, Kansas is the best team in my opinion that we faced all season.

We were fortunate to be able to win with 25 turnovers. We shot over 50%, which I think was the only team all year to shoot over 50% against them. But it's kind of an asterisk next to it with 25 turnovers.

I thought the shot at the end of the half was great. Aaron Afflalo made a great read and penetrated and hit Josh for the shot. Taht gave us great momentum going into the half. Then it was like two boxers going at it in the second half. Both teams were slugging it out the first three or four minutes.

Then Darren's shot was unbelievable. Shots like that are back-breakers. You're playing great defense and then a guy hits an unbelievable shot from 25 feet. That is tough. The bounces went our way.

There's no doubt that Bill Self and Kansas are going to win a national championship here at some point. They do an incredible job. They're as well-coached as anybody we've played. It's an incredible program.

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Best cheerleaders/dancers: UCLA.
Hands down, a no-brainer.

San Jose: Veni, Vidi, Vici

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Ben Howland extols the crowd as Dick Enberg awaits to interview him


UCLA wins 68-55 over Kansas.

In a nutshell, the Bruins just never let KU get over that 6-to-10 point hump. UCLA was Heisman-like, with a good stiff-arm of the Jayhawks all afternoon long.

Bruins hit key free throws, made huge defensive stops and had the body language of a team that didn't want to lose at all. And of course, shooting near-60% shooting (10-for-17) in the second half didn't hurt either.

Strong work Bruins.

San Jose: two words, Helter Skelter

Man! KU has upped the ante on defense. The equivalence of an 8-man blitz in football. They're going after UCLA ball-handlers pell-mell now. The Bruin fans were screaming for Collison to pass the ball to a wide-open man under the goal, but with so many hands, elbows and arms flailing at him, he couldn't see him. It's going to be a foul-fest.

UCLA up 60-53 with 1:26 blood-curdling time remaining.

San Jose: Why are those threes at the buzzer so big?

When Daron Collison hit that three as the shot clock expired, the joint exploded here in Jose!

That put UCLA up by eight. A defensive stand further energized things for the Bruin faithful. But Aaron Afflalo just chucked the ball into the stands, taking the wind out of things briefly here.

UCLA up 58-50, 3:10 left. KU MUST make its move now... if it can. Tell you what, if KU doesn't score on their next three possessions, it's Taps City.

San Jose: Crunch time imminent

Okay, so here we go. UCLA has had a 6-to-9 point buffer the whole second half, and now leads by eight, 53-45, with 7:30 left. KU needs to keep letting Rush take advantage of his one-on-one matchups. Though as a team, UCLA is still staying stoudt on D.

Key stat is Lorenzo Mata picking up foul number four a few minutes ago. The ball doesn't seem to be falling for KU and the Bruins will need his rebounding ability in the closing minutes.

All the press boys are staring at the UCLA dance girls again. Who needs a juggler with that going on, right?

San Jose: If you guys haven't seen this dude before...

UCLAjuggler.jpg

the freakin' incredible UCLA juggler.

According to my good bud John Walters of NBC.com, who did a feature on him earlier this year, the guy is a senior at UCLA and actually has a scholarship to be the juggler for the athletic program. He got the scholarship by telling the University, "Look, if a baton twirler can get a scholarship for throwing and catching one object, I should get one for three to 10 objects."

Sure enough. It worked. The dude got a full-freakin'-ride scholly.

Gotta say though, the crowd is transfixed every time he enters the floor to work his act.

San Jose: Afflalo vs. Rush. Afflalo wins. UCLA up by 7

So much for my previous analysis... at least on this one.

With the shot clock winding down Aaron Afflalo shaked-n-baked and put up a three-pointer, bottoms! Rush wasn't playing in-his-jock defense that time. Bruins up 40-33 with 16:35 remaining.

San Jose: It's all about defense, UCLA up 35-31

Despite the score in the 30s, this has been a bitchin' first half defensively. Hands everywhere, quick feet and great helpside D on both teams part.

Turnovers: UCLA, 13. KU, 10.
Steals: UCLA has 6, KU has stolen 8.
Blocks: UCLA 1, KU has blocked 5

That last stat is the kind that tends to get into the head of a team. So we'll see if that continues to make a difference in the second half.

Great last play for UCLA:
It came down to that matchup that I've said was a huge key to this game, Aaron Afflalo passed up a chance to shoot the last shot against the more-athletic Brandon Rush, and dished the ball to Josh Shipp, who drained a three at the horn. Boom! UCLA up by four now.

And a smart play on Afflalo's part.

San Jose: For what it's worth - NBA prospects

The professional basketball evaluator next to me has said that Kareem Rush is the best prospect in the game tonight.

He also said that Aaron Afflalo isn't athletic enough, doesn't have the explosiveness of an NBA player for a guy 6'5. He pointed out to me that Aflalo's had three of his shots blocked, two by Rush, and it has gotten in his head now.

Keep that in mind as the game goes on.

San Jose: Kansas pulling a UCLA. Up 20-16

The Jayhawks have been playing the type of D that UCLA has been more known for in the Howland era. Harassing, haranging and destroying the confidence of the Bruins and Aaron Afflalo, in particular, so far.I'll be interested to see what the turnover and steal totals are at the half.

Kansas is flashing huge athletic ability too, pulling off three alley oop plays already in this game. Going over the top of the tough UCLA defense has been sweet to the Jayhawks so far.

San Jose: Knee-jerk reactions to first few minutes

It's 12-9 Kansas. 15:25 mark

1- The refs are a little too keyed up. Seems like they've already made a few bad calls.

2- Kansas, unlike Pitt, appears to have an offense and can actually score against the Bruins. They are moving the ball around extremely well so far.

3- More Bruin fans appear to have made the trip up here today. It's a louder powder blue today.

4- The entire press row was oggling the UCLA dance girls during the entirety of this first time out. Pffft!Perverts.

San Jose: Dick Enberg. The man. They myth.

DickEnberg.jpg
Dick Enberg... A blurry Dick Enberg that is. Sorry.


As part of CBS' announcing crew here in San Jose is play by play extraordinaire, Dick Enberg, this time teamed with Jay Bilas. His voice will always be tied to college basketball for me, especially in his days with NBC and part of the announcing team of Al McGuire and Billy Packer. Those three legends teamed up for five high-quality years of roundball announcing.

I mean, I love the improvements that CBS has made over the years to its coverage of the Big Dance, but it was in its heyday with those three calling the action. The biggest stage of all was their calling of the 1979 Michigan State-Indiana State game featuring Magic Johnson against Larry Bird. Even to this day, it is still the most-watched college hoops game in history. I didn't even mind the fact that NBC used Kenny Loggins' "This is it" as their theme music.

Unfortunately, NBC's run of televising the NCAA tournament ended after Darrell Griffith and Louisville's "Doctors of Dunk" beat UCLA in the 1980 title game. CBS took over the next season (and promptly went out and showed fewer replays, especially on dunks, might i add). I always thought their coverage was much weaker in the early years. As mentioned above, eventually CBS' coverage improved and they did a lot of smart things - like stagger the start times and televise every game.

Dick Enberg, a Central Michigan grad, was a UCLA announcer during the Lew Alcindor/Bill Walton days before jumping up to NBC. He should be at home working today's UCLA-Kansas game. I'm jealous of all you out there since I won't be able to hear his call of the action.

March 23, 2007

San Jose: Okay, NOW they're dead

Bruins win 64-55 to advance to play Kansas on Saturday. If they play defense on Saturday like they did tonight, it will be a lights-out win for UCLA.

Good win for the Bruins. Now I've gotta go get to the bowels of the arena so I can see the end of the Tennessee-Ohio State game. Man, I wish I was in San Antonio tonight.

March 22, 2007

San Jose: Pitt not dead yet.

UCLA now up 56-51 with 1:22 left.

Okay, maybe it's just me, but if Pitt has anyone other than Ronald Ramon or Levance Fields even TOUCH the ball on the offensive end, then just wave a white flag.

Fields just hit another three to give Pitt a chance in this one. Those two guys are their only offensive weapons.

San Jose: UCLA has turned this into a snore-fest.

UCLA is up 54-42 against the punchless Panthers with 3:27 left.

Not really much more to add other than the fact that it's either Pitt has an awful offense or that UCLA plays such balls-out defense that they make everyone look pitiful.

(I'll refrain from using the word "Pitt-i-ful")

San Jose: Celebrity sightings

UCLA always brings out the big gun alums in the post-season.

Bill Walton, Matt Barnes. Baron Davis. And there were rumors that the head honcho himself, John Wooden, was in the house. Haven't seen him yet.

Also, new Stanford football coach Jim Harbaugh also has a first row seat across the way from me.

And I know he's dead, but I could've sworn I saw Jerry Garcia over there wearing Bruin blue as well. Maybe not.

San Jose: UCLA pulling away. Pitt going cold.

UCLA 40-31. 11:50 left.

Pitt has repeatedly had great looks and good shots, but they can't sink live bait right now. It just appears to me that Pitt has no offense to speak of. Especially against a team like UCLA that stays in your jock all game long.

UCLA is playing decent defense, but shouldn't be enough to keep Pitt scoreless for long stretches, as they've done in the second half.

San Jose: other quotes from first press conference

Sorry this is a little late, but here are some of the better quotes after the SIU-KU game.

Coach Self of Kansas.

"The key to the game was the play of Rodrick Stewart. He gave us quality minutes. We would not have won without him tonight."

"Because they (SIU) are from the Missouri Valley, there's not much difference in talent."

"You're not going to play good against Southern Illinois. You're just not. Nobody is. Especially not at this time of year."

"We didn't play well, but we won. C'mon, we play again on Saturday... of COURSE I'm happy."


Coach Lowery:
"We game-planned very well for this one. We did everything right to win the game. We got good looks on our shots and we fouled the right people at the end of the game."

"We made them earn everything. That's our game."

"We got a good look (on that last shot by Tatum). A shot he makes all season long. Then we also got the rebound. But we panicked a little bit. If we had a time out remaining, I would've taken it at that time. We just ran out of time."

San Jose: Just waiting for the sappy media questions at the end of this game.

As all of you know by now, Coach Howland of UCLA and Coach Dixon of Pitt worked together as H.C. and Asst. C. at Northern Arizona from 1994-to-1998. And it will be just like the media to ask them after the game, "What was it like coaching against your former assistant?", "What did you say to Coach Dixon after the game?" and "Does beating your former assistant make this win bittersweet?"

(Reverse the question line if Pitt wins)

In the previous post-game presser, an Illinois reporter asked Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery, "What is it going to take for someone to pull you away from SIU?"

Coach Lowery just rolled his eyes as a with-held groan came from the other media members.

San Jose: Bruin fans out-number everyone else. Bruins up 32-26.

Lots of UCLAns in the house. The best part is the "student" section way up in the upper tier of the arena. Dressed in identical blue T-shirts, they are standing the entire time and cheering like mad.

Unlike New Orleans last week where large sections of the upper tier remained totally empty, this place has very few open seats. Pretty impressive.

UCLA is now up at the half and I feel like I just sat down in my seat.

San Jose: So whadid I miss?

It's currently 23-18 Bruins at the five minute mark.

John Walters of NBC.com told me it's been an evenly-matched game so far. One thing I've noticed right off the bat, now that I'm back out at courtside, is that Coach Howland is using James Keefe and trapping Pitt's big man Aaron Gray every time he gets the rock down in the blocks.

Keefe, a Frosh, hasn't been used a lot this season, but at 6'8 and 220 (I'd guess more than 220 though), his size is a necessity inside.

San Jose: Why covering college baseball is better than covering college basketball

... and no, I mean other than the voluminous amounts of staid, pat-answers you get from the basketball players.

I just got done in the interview room listening to Coach Self and Coach Lowery give their post game press conference. And because there were only 25 minutes between games, it's already at the 10:30 mark of the first half of tonight's UCLA-Pitt game.

At the College World Series, there's a full hour between games so you can go to the interviews and not have to miss any of the next game.

San Jose: Clank! KU survives. 61-58

Tatum got a decent look, but just missed the three. Then Falker got the rebound, but couldn't decide who to give the outlet pass back out to, and turned it over.

KU's Julian Wright missed both free throws, but a desperation shot that came close enough to have the entire Arena gasp, fell just short.

Kansas advances. SIU goes home.

Nice round of applause from SIU's fans to the team. Jay Bilas now talking to Coach Self.

San Jose: KU still up by two. Tatum hits huge three

SIU has gotten a few good looks in a row, but just can't convert. But Jamal Tatum hit a threw-pointer with 1:08 left to pull SIU back within two.

Not a single KU or SIU fan in their respective sections is sitting down. More hands "clasped" in prayer on the Saluki side though.

San Jose: Here we go.

The crowd is up. And loud. Brandon Rush just barely drew iron on three-point play free throw.

The score is KU 52- SIU 49. 3:55 left. SIU has thrown horrible passes right into Jayhawk hands the last two times down the court.

This game could still come down to the last shot... or the the last bondhead play.

San Jose: SIU out of big run "danger zone"

At the half, NBC.com's John Walters and I were talking and we agreed that if SIU didn't give up a big run by KU right off the bat in the second half, and were still in the game at the 10 minute mark, it was going to go down to the wire.

Here we are at the nine and a half minute mark and it's SIU 43-39.

Game on.

San Jose: SIU fans starting to feel it.

Salukis take over lead in second half, fans getting louder. It's now SIU 37-36 with 11:47 remaining.

Neither team appears able to go on a big run, so this should be a good ending with the teams trading baskets. We'll see.

Although the CBS game-feed is being shown on the JumboTron above, the arena here isn't showing replays. So some of these tickle fouls that have been called of late, I don't get a chance to see again. But boy do I hear the fans reaction!

San Jose: Halftime, KU up 27-24. Missed threes a big difference.

KU rallied for the last six points of the half to re-take the lead.

SIU can't be too disappointed. The Salukis are definitely matching KU's intensity, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. But the Salukis are cold from long distance, hitting just 4-of-16 from three-point land. KU has only taken four long-rangers, hitting one. But overall, the Jayhawks are 13-for-21 (62%) so far. Nice percentage.

Watch out for the KU inside game. A lot of the scores have come from dunks or point blank range. It may start to wear SIU down in the second half.

San Jose: SIU rallying, takes lead, 24-21

Randal Falker just gave the Salukis the lead with a free throw. He has also missed a pair of dunks in this game, however. Jamal Tatum added to it with a long two-pointer that has the SIU fans going crazy.

I love the "turn it over. turn it over." chant by SIU fans. THAT'S a defense with a reputation.

San Jose: Pace still favors KU, as Hawks lead 19-13.

A few minutes ago you could audibly hear SIU coach Chris Lowery yell to his team, "Slow it down. Slow it down!" after they got a rebound.

The score is 19-13 at the 7:24 mark, but it's still been a pretty hectic pace, save for a few good defensive stands that saw shots at the shot clock horn get launched. It's just that each team is pretty cold shooting-wise so far.

San Jose: Dunking, after the buzzer

Amid chants of "Turn it over. Turn it over." by the SIU fans, the Salukis have amped up the defense and already forced a pair of turnovers. But KU's Julian Wright definitely dunked home a shot that was slearly after the shot clock expired. The refs all had that "who, me?" look on their face.

The Saluki fans that are right in my ear are howling.

A three-pointer by Mario Chalmers makes it 13-8, KU.

Oh, I'm sitting next to the venerable John Walters of NBC.com and Notre Dame football coverage fame.

San Jose: Shaw enters game for SIU

The ankle injurty to Saluki forward Matt Shaw apparently isn't bad enough to keep him out of this game. Though he didn't start the game, the Junior entered at the 17:38 mark of the first half. Doesn't seem to be moving too bad out there either. But still worth keeping an eye on as the game goes along.

Right now, KU's athleticism is a bit too much for SIU, as the Jayhawks lead 8-2 at the 16:19 mark.

San Jose: The player with the most regret?...

Rodrick Stewart, guard for Kansas.

He's the twin brother of Lodrick, who plays for USC. While Lodrick has gone on to have a banner year and is with his team in the Sweet 16 this weekend, Rodrick, who transfered from SC to KU last year, has played sparingly, scoring just 25 total points, mostly in garbage time.

Contrast that with his Freshman year at USC, where he started 17 of the 27 games he played, averaging 4.5 points per game and 2.2 rebounds. Had he stayed with the Trojans, you could only guess he'd be a key cog in their success alongside his twin brother.

Just a thought here.

San Jose: From the land of silicone implants to Silicone Valley

SanJoseArena.jpg

A view of HP Pavilion about an hour before tip-off. Check out the Raider-like colors in this joint.

I made the drive up from Los Angeles this morning, without any traffic problems (somebody pinch me). We're about to tip things off between Southern Illinois and Kansas.

Should be fun.

March 21, 2007

San Jose Regional: Preview

This trip up to the Bay Area reminds me a lot of last year's trip to the Oakland Regional finals. What the hell, it's the same drive from Los Angeles, maybe a few dozen miles shorter.

The Missouri Valley makes another appearance in the West Regional as Southern Illinois hopes to go one step further than Bradley did last year. But UCLA is the one everyone out here will be watching again, hoping to make another Final Four appearance out of the West. Kansas will be a tough hurdle to overcome, as they are used to the bright lights and have the horses. Pitt is the X-factor. The Panthers have lived (and died) with high expectations all season. So this is their chance to show some people they belong.

This could be the strongest bracket left playing as all four top seeds advanced and Kansas and UCLA are both Final Four-ready.

Thursday's games look like this:

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 4 Southern Illinois, 4:10 pacific time
No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 3 Pittsburgh, 7:40 pacific time

Here's a look at each team:

Continue reading "San Jose Regional: Preview" »

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