Whatever happens at the Final Four, UCLA has achieved a marvelous victory by getting there for a third consecutive year.
Of course, the goal of Coach Ben Howland and his players is to win the school’s first national championship since 1995. But to me, anything less won’t detract much from a season which has produced, to this point, 35 wins and only three losses.
There is a school of thought that teams who reach championship playoffs and lose are somehow disgraced. This has happened in pro football to Super Bowl losers, but I think it was a heck of an achievement to get that far.
In this case, UCLA will be in a field with three other No. 1-seeded teams, the first time all four have gotten into college basketball’s marquee event.
UCLA will play Memphis Saturday, April 5 in San Antonio. North Carolina and Kansas will play in the other game and the two winners will meet Monday night.
UCLA showed in a 76-57 win over Xavier in the West Regional final Saturday, March 29 in Phoenix that it can be a powerhouse when functioning at its best. The Bruins were much better than in their last two games, when lapses made the contests close.
However, even UCLA’s best game won’t guarantee victory against the best teams it will have opposed this season. The other three teams are loaded with talent.
It will be most interesting against Memphis if UCLA freshman center Kevin Love can carry the Bruins to victory against a big, talented frontline. He came through against a rugged Texas A&M team and this will be a similar challenge.
“We’re playing well now and I feel good about our team,” said Howland.
Xavier coach Sean Miller said he was most impressed how UCLA avoids fouling despite placing a heavy emphasis on defense. UCLA ranks fifth in the nation in fewest fouls committed.
Texas couldn’t cope with Memphis’ inside power in their Elite Eight game and did best with three-point attempts. But UCLA will likely go inside at first because that’s the Bruins’ strength.
UCLA will need some outstanding marksmanship too, however, and this would be a good time for Josh Shipp to emerge from a horrendous shooting slump.
UCLA’s trademark is an aggressive defense, and it will be important for the Bruins to maintain a medium tempo rather than letting Memphis’ high-flying athletes turn the game into a track meet.
North Carolina has the nation’s Player of the Year, Tyler Hansbrough, and easily handled Pac-10 Conference representative Washington State in a Sweet 16 game.
Kansas had the closest call of the Elite Eight games, escaping with a two-point win over Davidson, which missed a three-pointer on the final play.
This is the first time UCLA has reached three consecutive Final Fours since John Wooden was coach. The Bruins have won their last 14 games.