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Collison, Love's defense help UCLA escape with win

Mar 23, 2008 - 5:27 AM ANAHEIM, California (Ticker) -- Darren Collison and top-seeded UCLA keep finding ways to pull games out.

Collison scored 21 points and hit a floater with 9.5 seconds left to lead the Bruins to a 53-49 victory over No. 9 Texas A&M in the second round of the NCAA Tournament's West Regional on Saturday.

Freshman Kevin Love had 19 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks in helping UCLA (33-3) erase a 10-point second-half deficit.

The Bruins, who have won 12 straight, now advance to face either Western Kentucky or San Diego in the regional semifinal in Phoenix next week.

It was yet another close call that ended in the favor of UCLA, which escaped Stanford, California and Southern California in the last few weeks by making clutch shots in the final seconds.

Against Texas A&M, the Bruins were on the ropes, but once again responded to adversity.

"It was still a ballgame to be played," said Collison of battling back from a 10-point deficit. "Once that buzzer goes zero-zero, the time clock goes zero-zero, that's when we'll stop playing. We've been through that all season. Ever since I've been here we've been through adversity, especially in the tournament. So there's no quitting.

"We had some games coming into the tournament where we've been down. We just stayed focused. We knew what we had to do. We knew who was going to win, and all the coaches said we just had to do the right things to win the game."

Donald Sloan hit a jumper in the lane to tie the game at 49-49 with 43 seconds left. However, Collison drove the right side and floated a layup over the outstretched arms of 7-foot center DeAndre Jordan for a 51-49 lead with just 10 seconds remaining.

"That was vintage Darren Collison," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "Driving down the lane, going right, high off the glass, kissing it in. The second one was really a blessing because that thing kind of rolled in for us. And, believe me, I'm very thankful."

On the ensuing possesion, Sloan drove to the basket and had had his shot blocked by Josh Shipp and Love. Russell Westbrook raced the other way and threw down an emphatic jam at the buzzer, sending the partisan crowd into a frenzy.

"I saw him driving in there," Love said. "I saw him fake it to the basket. There was only a few seconds left. I was going to try to step up and block it. I thought I had the right timing, but I think it was Josh who stepped up and blocked it."

"We had a designed play set up to get our shooters open, and it wasn't that drive, so I drove and went up to shoot a layup and it was brought back down either by my force or somebody else's," Sloan said. "Leave it up to other people to see, but it didn't go our way."

Sloan had 12 points and Josh Carter added 10 for the Aggies (25-11), who led, 36-26, with 18:27 left in the second half. However, they hit just three field goals in the final 10 minutes.

First-year coach Mark Turgeon said the final play was designed to be a 3-pointer for Dominque Kirk.

"Sloan went crazy on the play, but we had a three set up for Dominique and using Josh as a decoy," Turgeon said. "And I was watching that action, and all of a sudden I saw this blur coming by, and I saw him get bumped. And, I don't know, you'll be able to see it. They'll show it a thousand times on TV.

"I was going for a three. I was going to run out of here with a one-point win. That's what I was looking for, whether it would have worked, because Sloan went so fast, I don't know, but something we've practiced a lot, something that's worked for us, and I got a lot of confidence in."

Texas A&M, which was looking for a second straight trip to the "Sweet 16," had the Bruins faithful sitting on pins and needles the entire game.

The Aggies used a 17-5 run that bridged the first and second halves to take a 34-26 lead. Carter capped the run with a jumper that bounced off the top of the backboard and went in just 53 seconds after intermission.

Joseph Jones hit a layup for a 36-26 lead with 18:27 remaining, but UCLA then embarked on a game-changing 21-9 run.

Love forged a 45-45 tie with a tough fadeaway in the lane with 3:03 left. The sensational freshman then gave the Bruins their first lead since the first half by hitting a turnaround shot for a 47-45 lead with 1:37 remaining.

"I'm just looking at the back of the rim just trying to put it through the basket," Love said. "You kind of dream about shots like that. You know, advancing to the next round, hitting big shots for your team."

Jones tied it at 47-47 before Collison made the first of two driving layups that put the Bruins back on top.

"He just made some great plays," said Jones of Love. "He hit two key shots for them that they really needed, and that's the only difference it was. After I played tough defense, he just hit two big shots for them."