LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Ben Howland has always stressed a hard-nosed
approach and the importance of playing tough defense. As he nears
the end of his third year as UCLA's coach, it's apparent the Bruins
realize what he requires from them.
Freshman Darren Collison scored a career-high 15 points,
sophomore Arron Afflalo and freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute added
12 each, and the Bruins (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 13 AP) took command early in the
second half to beat Arizona 71-59 Friday night in the Pac-10
"Guys are understanding what it takes to play championship
basketball," senior center Ryan Hollins said. "Our intensity's
definitely stepped up. Our thing is to pressure the ball and be
The Bruins put the game away by outscoring the Wildcats 27-12 to
start the second half for a 60-38 lead. The Wildcats hurt
themselves by committing five of their 15 turnovers and shooting
5-of-19 during that stretch.
"We had a seven-point lead at the half, but then we came back
out and got off to an unbelievable start against an NCAA tournament
team," Howland said. "And although we won by 12, the score is not
indicative of the fact that we were pretty much in control the last
16, 17 minutes of this game. It was really fun.
"You want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the
season. But not only are we playing good, we're getting better.
This is truly a team."
The top-seeded Bruins (26-6) will play California for the
championship Saturday and the automatic berth in the NCAA
tournament that goes with it. Cal held off Oregon 91-87 in double
overtime Friday night to reach the title game for the first time.
The Bruins bring a six-game winning streak into Saturday's game,
mainly because of their defense. They've limited the opposition to
an average of just over 55 points per game since being beaten 71-68
by Southern California on Feb. 19.
"That's what coach really emphasizes -- defense," Collison
said. "On the defensive end, we did what we had to do."
Arizona entered averaging 73.4 points per game. The Wildcats'
previous single-game low this season was 60 in a five-point win
over California on Jan. 21. They had only 44 points before scoring
15 in the final 4:21 -- after the outcome was decided.
"There's no question the better team won," Arizona coach Lute
Olson said. "They're just a whole lot more physical than what we
are. In the first half, we made a lot of mistakes. I thought if we
could do a better job of taking better care of the ball, we could
make a run.
"But UCLA's just better. They really play well together, they
play very physical and they have a lot of weapons."
Despite losing, the Wildcats (19-12) seem assured of an
invitation to their 22nd straight NCAA tournament. They need one
victory to reach the 20-win milestone for the 19th consecutive
Collison shot 6-of-10 including 2-of-3 from 3-point range. His
previous career best was 12.
"Yeah, I'm a little surprised," Collison said of leading the
Bruins in scoring. "The coach told me to be aggressive and take it
to the basket tonight."
UCLA's Cedric Bozeman started despite spraining his left ankle
in the first half of Thursday night's 79-47 victory over Oregon
State. He had nine points in 27 minutes.
Jordan Farmar got in early foul trouble and had a rare
off-night. The Bruins' second-leading scorer had five points and
six assists, and committed seven of his team's 11 turnovers.
Mbah a Moute and Hollins had seven rebounds each for UCLA.
The win was UCLA's third straight over Arizona this season. The
Bruins swept the Wildcats for the first time since the 1996-97
season -- the last time they won the regular-season championship
before this year.
Arizona played without Hassan Adams, suspended for the
tournament by coach Lute Olson after being arrested on suspicion of
drunken driving last weekend.
The Wildcats were able to beat Stanford 73-68 in the
quarterfinals without Adams, but clearly missed their leading
scorer against the Bruins.
"He does a lot for us," Arizona's Mustafa Shakur said. "There
were still things we didn't do that we should have done."
UCLA wound up shooting 28-of-56 (50 percent) while Arizona was
23-of-55 (41.8 percent).
Farmar picked up his second foul with 14:24 left before halftime
and the Wildcats leading 11-10. With the sophomore guard on the
bench, the Bruins turned up their defensive intensity, forcing
several turnovers during a 16-3 run that put them ahead 26-14.
The Wildcats weren't closer than five points after that.