UCLA can run and KU can D it up, too

Originally Published: March 23, 2007
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Kansas and UCLA are two of the most storied programs in college basketball history.

The Bruins have won 11 national championships, produced great players such as Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor and Marques Johnson, and once were coached by John Wooden, known as the "Wizard of Westwood" because of his unprecedented success in the NCAA Tournament.

The Jayhawks have won two national championships, produced players like Wilt Chamberlain, Jo Jo White and Danny Manning, and once were coached by Phog Allen and James Naismith, the man who invented the sport.

"I think no matter how well we do at Kansas, we're never going to do more than what the people that came before us have done," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "UCLA probably feels the same way. These guys are all great players, but they're not going to be Wilt or Danny. We're caretakers."

Both the Bruins and Jayhawks have struggled to reach the level of success their predecessors enjoyed. Last season, UCLA reached the Final Four for the first time since 1995, losing to Florida 73-57 in the championship game. Kansas reached the Final Four and came up short in each of former coach Roy Williams' final two seasons in 2002 and 2003, and Self's previous two teams each lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

On Saturday, the top-seeded Jayhawks and No. 2-seeded Bruins will meet in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 17 years, and only the fifth time in their storied histories. UCLA has won the first four meetings. The winner of this one, in the West Regional final, advances to next weekend's Final Four in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

"At UCLA, all they care about is championships," Bruins point guard Darren Collison said. "Last year, we fell one game short. We didn't win a championship, so we felt like we failed."

While their histories and traditions are similar, the current Bruins and Jayhawks are studies in contrast, or at least that has been their scouting reports this season. We were led to believe that under coach Ben Howland, the Bruins like to slow the pace and greatly value each possession. The Jayhawks, with an embarrassment of potential NBA prospects, love to run up and down the floor at a frenetic pace and score in transition.

Actually, the teams aren't that much different, at least statistically. UCLA averages 71.6 points and allows 59.6 per game. Kansas averages 79 points and allows 61.5 per game. The Bruins are nearly as efficient as the Jayhawks shooting the basketball and have more than 100 fewer turnovers.

"Kansas' strength is an up-and-down game, and we can do that, too," Collison said. "All along, teams have been trying to figure out how to slow us down and grind it out. Some teams have been trying to run with us, and we think that's our best game."

Believe it or not, the Jayhawks are much better at defending their opponents, at least as far as field-goal percentage goes. Opponents made only 37.3 percent of their shots and 31.5 percent of their 3-pointers against Kansas; UCLA's opponents shot 42.6 percent and 37.4 percent on 3-pointers.

"They're a very good defensive team," Howland said of the Jayhawks. "Kansas' number one thing is their defense, make no mistake about that."

Each team will try to establish its own pace. Southern Illinois imposed its will on Kansas in Thursday night's semifinal game of the West Regional. The Jayhawks prevailed with a 61-58 victory, but they were unable to penetrate the Salukis' tenacious defense for much of the contest. The Jayhawks shot only 1-for-6 on 3-pointers and their 61 points were their second fewest this season.

So what does Self expect from UCLA, which is bigger, faster and stronger than the Salukis?

"I thought Southern Illinois' on-the-ball defense was terrific," Self said. "This will be a comparable-type defense, but you'll have more guys, more athletic guys, that can kind of clog things up and give you problems if you allow them to."

Self said he expects a faster game against the Bruins, despite UCLA's reputation of being a slow-it-down, grind-it-out basketball team. With Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year Arron Afflalo, Josh Shipp and Collison playing on the perimeter, the Bruins also can run up and down the floor.

"I think this game will be faster than the Southern Illinois game, but I don't know if it's going to be a lot faster," Self said. "I know we'd like to get out and run. We're going to try to do that. They'll run, too. They have as quick a point guard as there is anywhere. I can see a low-scoring game where both teams are trying to play pretty fast, but defense on both ends will be pretty good.

"It may be the story of the day that their defense may carry them or whatever. But you talk about Collison, Afflalo and Shipp on the perimeter, they're never going to be overlooked. Those guys can score points, make plays and stretch the defense."

Kansas guard Russell Robinson said the Bruins would be ill-advised to try to play with the Jayhawks in a track meet.

"I hope they do run with us," Robinson said. "I think it would be great. I think it would play to our advantage because I just think we have more guys, our guys are better. I think we just have to defend. If they go up and down, I think it will be great."

Howland said he won't collar his point guard if the game's tempo gets fast against the Jayhawks. The Bruins scored 88 points against Georgia Tech, 92 against Michigan, 96 against Washington and 81 against Arizona.

"You can play good defense and still be in a game that's in the 70s or 80s," Howland said. "As long as you're scoring in the 90s or 100s."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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