After the much-needed breather from the thrilling overtime win of Stanford over Marquette, the West Regional was ready to be played between #1 UCLA Bruins and #9 Texas A&M Aggies. The crowd was so loud and raucous before the tip-off that they drowned out the Aggie band just from their clapping and hollering. This was definitely a home game for the Bruins and they needed the fans' help.
As the game opened, UCLA missed outside shots as A&M made their baskets and took the lead. Fourteen turnovers and good defense kept UCLA in check as A&M went on runs of 8-0 and 7-0 at different times. The game was choppy and didn’t flow well, requiring both teams to grind it out. The crowd got very loud about five minutes in. A&M stopped scoring and the UCLA offense came to life. A&M appeared to get rattled whenever the crowd made itself heard throughout the day.
At the 10:00 mark, UCLA hadn’t made much headway and it seemed like the game was the A&M team against Darren Collison and Kevin Love. The Aggies were getting contributions from everyone while the Bruin tandem dominated in points, scoring 40 of the team’s 51 points. The other three starters, Russell Westbrook, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute and Josh Shipp were scoreless in the first half, going 0-11.
Even though they were behind for most of the game, UCLA never moved with urgency until very late, seeming confident they could handle any score, which they did being down by as much as 10 points in the second half. Westbrook got two easy breakaways. The freshman Love looked like a veteran, battling hard under the boards and was three blocks short of a triple double.
UCLA had a chance to take the lead under five minutes, but Collison held onto the ball for too long and did nothing with it. With A&M not scoring a field goal for nearly 10 minutes, Love was able to tie the game at 45-45 with three minutes left and then he hit a short fadeaway at 1:31 to finally give UCLA the lead. His enthusiasm pumped the crowd up during a late timeout.
As time wound down, Collison twice milked the clock and lulled A&M into allowing him easy lay-ups. In between, Doanld Sloane hit a difficult fadeaway jumper to tie the score at 49-49. With 9 seconds to go and only up by two points, Shipp redeemed his zero offensive output by blocking Sloane’s final drive. Westbrook recovered the ball and dunked it as time ran out. Some gamblers had a legitimate grievance as the television replay showed the basket shouldn’t have counted. (Update: Officials later negated the dunk, making the final score 51-49.)
That was reminiscent of a lot of games we seem to be in lately, where we’re having to make dramatic comebacks in the last few minutes,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “But the one thing that I love about our team is that they know in their heart they’re always going to win the game. They’re going to find a way.”
Although a disappointing loss, Texas A&M battled well under first-year coach Mark Turgeon. According to him, “It just came down to Love and Collison at the end making plays.” UCLA assistant coach Donny Daniels admitted, “They outplayed us for 39 minutes.” If Texas A&M stays together, I expect them to go farther in the tournament next year.
UCLA will face the winner of #12 Western Kentucky or #13 San Diego next Thursday.