April 1, 2006
Suffocating, suffocating, suffocating ... that is the way to describe UCLA's defense on Saturday night.
We have all heard the cries before: You'd better defend if you want to win a championship. Whether it is football, baseball or basketball, name the sport, it is true. Look at the White Sox or the Steelers, recent champions, and defense was a factor.
Ben Howland has bought a defensive mentality, a special physicality to Westwood. He had that defensive mindset at Pittsburgh and his UCLA team has bought into it big time. Against LSU, and dynamic duo Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Tyrus Thomas, the Bruins shut down the Tigers. UCLA denied passes to the post and really contested shots. They also mixed up defenses on Davis.
UCLA also shut down the perimeter game. LSU did not make a 3-point field goal in the first half, with the Tigers falling behind by 15 at intermission. The Bruins hit three trifectas in building their lead to double digits in the first half.
The Bruins also executed well offensively in the first half, shooting 58 percent in the first 20 minutes. Talk about all the stars you want, but Pac-10 rookie of the year Luc Richard Mbah A Moute was brilliant in the first half, hitting all three of his field goal attempts, scoring 12 points and grabbing six rebounds. He set the tone for UCLA.
Lorenzo Mata gave Howland solid minutes up front. Michael Roll also played strong minutes as bench play was a factor for the Bruins. LSU's turnover really hurt John Brady's club.
Yes, UCLA has different names. Tthere is no Walton, Alcindor, Goodrich or Hazzard. But the bottom line is the four letters "U-C-L-A" stand for winning. Howland has done an incredible job building something special in just three years. The Bruins will be playing for national championship No. 12 Monday night. I'm sure John Wooden was watching with pride Saturday night as the Bruins were so impressive in taking down LSU.
After the performance against Memphis, holding the Tigers to 45, and Saturday's showing, the defense has been super, scintillating, sensational. It will be interesting to see UCLA's defense against Florida's balance Monday night. Howland vs. Billy Donovan. Joakim Noah and company against the Bruins. I can't wait, baby!
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.