Higher seeds survive high-wire acts


UCLA's guarded condition

By Mark Schlabach
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- UCLA guard Arron Afflalo's shots aren't falling, but the No. 2 seed Bruins keep winning.

Afflalo, the Bruins' leading scorer with 16.7 points per game, continued to struggle from the floor in UCLA's 64-55 win over No. 3 seed Pittsburgh Thursday night in a semifinal game of the West Region at HP Pavilion. The junior from Compton, Calif., scored 17 points, but shot only 3-for-11 from the field and 1-for-5 on 3-pointers. He did make all 10 of his foul shots, though, and also had seven rebounds and two assists.

"At this point in the season, you've got to knock them down," Afflalo said. "They'll fall soon and as long as my team keeps winning, it's a positive."

The Bruins hope Afflalo's shots start falling when they play No.
1 seed Kansas on Saturday in the regional finals. The winner advances to play in next week's Final Four in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

Afflalo's slump started in UCLA's final regular-season game, a 61-51 loss at Washington on March 3. He has shot 31 percent (18-for-58) in the last five games, including 25 percent (7-for-28) on 3-pointers. His best effort was an 8-for-15 night in the Bruins' 70-42 win over No. 15 seed Weber State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

"It's been getting me the last few nights," Afflalo said. "When my shots aren't falling, I've got to do some other things for my team and get to the foul line."

Afflalo missed each of his four shots in the second half against Pittsburgh, but sophomore guard Josh Shipp picked up the slack, scoring 11 points after the break to finish with 16. Point guard Darren Collison chipped in 12 points on 3-for-5 shooting.

It seems the Bruins will go as far their guards will take them. Starting forwards Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Lorenzo Mata once again didn't provide much offense, combining to score 10 points, but they did a stout job defending Pittsburgh's Aaron Gray, who scored 10 points on 5-for-11 shooting and didn't attempt a foul shot.

"This is a team where you're going to get different guys stepping up each night," Afflalo said.

Shipp made a pair of 3-pointers in the second half, and Michael Roll and Shipp made 3-pointers that extended UCLA's lead from six points to 43-31 with 11:11 to go.

"Tonight, everybody started hitting 3s," Shipp said. "We're confident in everybody's abilities. Fortunately tonight, a couple went down for me."


By Doug Gottlieb

• There is an obvious reason that UCLA has twice advanced past the Sweet 16 and Pitt has not: NBA talent. Aaron Gray has improved dramatically at Pitt, but he is a bench player at the next level, at best. Arron Afflalo is a solid NBA wing, and when you combine his ability to break you down with Darren Collison and Josh Shipp on the perimeter, once again Pitt is headed home.

• Two points on SIU: 1) Hire Chris Lowery. He recruited well for Bruce Weber at SIU and Illinois before returning to his alma mater and becoming one heck of a head coach. 2) We continue to miss on the strength of the Missouri Valley. Yes, SIU dominated the league -- just as Ohio State and Florida dominated theirs -- but unlike the power conferences, the Valley only got two teams in the dance.

• Memphis has finally perfected Vance Walberg's offense after two years of running it. AASAA -- or attack, attack, skip (pass), attack, attack -- has many high school coaches buzzing in California, and Coach Cal will soon be preaching its virtues at the Final Four. Cal's athletes have learned how to pick apart every different style of defense, and the movement is made even more difficult by Ohio State having just one day to prep for a style no one else outside of Long Beach State and Pepperdine uses.

• It was just seven years ago that Tulsa was a favorite over UNC in Austin. Bill Self has come a long way since then. Self has now become the head of an elite college basketball family with Billy Gillispie, Norm Richardson, Scott Sutton, Barry Hinson and Tim Jankovich all spreading his branches; he has retained the image of KU's recruiting prowess; and he has gotten the first-round monkey off his back. All that is left is a trip to the Final Four. Winning the title would help Self pass Roy Williams and put him in the class of one of his two mentors, Larry Brown.