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Sunday, April 06, 2008

CBS' Gregg Doyle Sees the Light - Respectable UCLA never had a chance against nasty Memphis

Respectable UCLA never had a chance against nasty Memphis
April 5, 2008
By Gregg Doyel National Columnist

SAN ANTONIO -- UCLA coach Ben Howland is a nice man, and his team is a reflection of that. He has a nice center. A nice power forward. And on and on, all the way down to his nice point guard. Howland has put together a program that is presentable and competent, like a conservative haircut -- each part in its rightful place.

Darren Collison wants no part of the Tigers on Saturday night. (Getty Images)
Memphis' John Calipari isn't so nice. He boasts and snarls and dares you not to like him. Calipari doesn't care. He's vicious -- and his team is a reflection of that. He has a beast at center, a bully at power forward, and on and on, all the way down to his brutal backcourt.

What happens when an entirely respectable college basketball team runs into a snarling monster? What do you think happens? Monster wins. And big. In this case the monster won 78-63 Saturday, moving Memphis within one victory of its first national championship.

UCLA dominated the Pac-10 and deserved its top billing out West, but the Bruins' soft road to the Final Four was exposed by the hard edges of a Memphis team that fears no team, certainly not one as soft as UCLA.

The Bruins are soft. Make no mistake about that. Soft physically, and soft mentally. Point guard Darren Collison completely cracked under the pressure of Derrick Rose, fouling out with 2 minutes, 53 seconds remaining on a ridiculous reach-in. Collison had just up-chucked his latest brick, a driving shot that didn't hit any part of the rim. He was 1-for-9, and he had more turnovers (five) than assists (four). UCLA trailed 63-52, and Collison wanted out. So he fouled Rose 50 feet from the basket.

Collison wasn't the only Bruin broken by Memphis' unrelenting pressure at both ends of the court. After the game Rose said he felt UCLA start to buckle late in the first half, and he's probably right. Memphis doesn't play a basketball game. Memphis engages in psychological warfare, and if you can't handle it ... do what Collison did. Leave.

Memphis also exposed UCLA freshman center Kevin Love, giving him a tutorial on why he should return to school for his sophomore season and perhaps even pull a Tyler Hansbrough and spend three or four years in school. Love surely isn't athletic enough to play in the NBA -- not effectively -- if he wasn't athletic enough to play in the Final Four. And he wasn't. Not this Final Four.

Love had 12 points and nine rebounds, proving to be no match for Memphis' trio of big men -- Joey Dorsey, Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggart -- who combined for 25 rebounds and five blocked shots. Memphis' post players combined to score just 13 points, but Calipari didn't put together his team with the old-school ideal of balanced scoring inside and out. Calipari put together his team with ruthless domination in mind, and he got it Saturday.

"Every time we shot a quick shot, they were down the floor in less than five seconds," Love said. "Scoring another bucket."

UCLA scored the first five points, but Memphis claimed the lead at 13-12 and never trailed again. Memphis never even came close to giving up the lead, and here's something that ought to terrify whoever awaits in the championship game Monday night: Memphis manhandled UCLA and didn't play all that well. The Tigers shot 42.2 percent from the floor. They made just four 3-pointers. They forced a so-so 12 turnovers.

They won by 15. And the final margin was no fluke, not when the Tigers were facing a UCLA team that had just one player who could have cracked the Memphis starting five: Russell Westbrook, a Steve Francis-like guard who can play on or off the ball and score any which way he chooses. Westbrook scored a career-high 22 points.

Oh, and ... yes. You read a sentence in the previous paragraph correctly. UCLA has one player who could start for Memphis, and his name isn't Kevin Love. I realize Love was a consensus All-American, and he deserved it. He is -- or was, considering this was likely his final game at UCLA -- a great college player.

But Love couldn't start for Memphis, because Memphis doesn't play a style conducive to his game. Love is an old-school post player, which makes him perfect for Howland's old-school style of physical defense and efficient half-court offense.

Calipari isn't old-school. Calipari has his critics -- including a ridiculous screed Saturday morning in the Los Angeles Times that said he couldn't coach with Howland -- but the truth is that he's on the cutting edge of the sport, installing his attacking offense after learning it from an obscure junior college coach in California.

Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts are the perfect guards for the system, darting in and around the Bruins for 53 points. With Rose and Douglas-Roberts making a mockery of the UCLA defense, Memphis looked like it was using the Harlem Globetrotters' weave. Does that make UCLA the Washington Generals? The Bruins sure looked that way Saturday, handcuffed by a roster that had no business being on the same floor with Memphis.

UCLA was already a step behind Memphis, trailing 59-49 when Collison picked up his fourth foul with 7:53 remaining. Howland looked down his respectable college bench and had to get even slower, bringing in 6-8 James Keefe to play power forward and moving 6-8 Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to small forward. Two years ago Mbah a Moute was an NBA prospect at that position, but injuries have robbed him of his quickness. Something similar has happened to small forward Josh Shipp, who was once a better athlete than ex-Bruin Arron Afflalo but has regressed into a plodding, one-dimensional shooter.

In that lineup, with Collison out, Shipp was forced to play shooting guard. No chance. Not against Memphis. Once Collison left with four fouls, the game was over.

Then again, this game was over a lot earlier than that. This blowout, a mirror image of the man in charge of each program, was months in the making.

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