for this game

Love, Keefe power UCLA over stubborn Western Kentucky

Mar 28, 2008 - 6:35 AM PHOENIX (Ticker) -- UCLA nearly blew a 21-point lead, but the Bruins are now just one win away from its third straight Final Four appearance.

Freshman Kevin Love scored a season-high 29 points and added 14 rebounds as top-seeded UCLA withstood a second-half charge from 12th-seeded Western Kentucky to post an 88-78 victory in the West Regional's semifinal matchup on Thursday.

James Keefe had career highs with 18 points and 12 rebounds off the bench for the Bruins, who will play Xavier in the regional final on Saturday.

"This is very typical of us, we like to make things exciting and make me lose hair," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "It would have been a lot (more fun) to actually have played as well as we did in the first half, in the second half.

"James had his career game so far. It is kind of fun to see a guy who does the right things get rewarded by having the game of his life and helping his team get to the next round."

UCLA (34-3) had outscored the Hilltoppers, 28-7, over the final 12 minutes of the first half to take a 41-20 lead at the break, and the Bruins still led by 18 with under 12 1/2 minutes remaining.

But Western Kentucky (29-7) did not go away easily, using a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to 56-47, and after eight straight points later in the half by Tyrone Brazelton, the Hilltoppers had trimmed the margin to 61-57 with 6:58 to play.

"We (were) down but we had nothing to lose," Brazelton said. "We never feel intimidated by any team we play. UCLA is a great team but we just had too many careless turnovers in the first half and didn't knock down shots."

However, the Bruins hung on, later going on an 11-3 run that pushed the lead up to 74-62 with over three minutes remaining, and UCLA made 11-of-12 free throws down the stretch to keep the Hilltoppers from getting any closer than six points the rest of the way.

Love shot 10-of-14 from the field and also had four blocks and four assists for the Bruins, who committed 19 turnovers.

"Coach Howland kept reiterating that they were never going to give up and they didn't," Love said. "They started to hit shots and got back in the game but luckily we executed down the stretch and hit our free throws."

Russell Westbrook had 14 points and 11 rebounds and Josh Shipp also scored 14 for the Bruins, who played the final 5:39 without point guard Darren Collison, who had fouled out. Collison had just four points and one assist.

UCLA shot 50 percent (29-of-58) from the field and outrebounded Western Kentucky, 51-36, for the game.

UCLA started to create some separation midway through the first half, using a 10-0 spurt to take a 23-13 bulge with 7:30 to play in the half. Westbrook had six points during the run.

The Bruins continued to stretch the lead and Keefe's three-point play late in the first half gave UCLA a 41-20 advantage at the break.

Western Kentucky scored only seven points over the last 11:55 of the half, shooting 6-of-32 (19 percent) over the opening 20 minutes. The Hilltoppers missed 19 of their final 21 shots in the first half.

"I am very proud the way we battled back, but it isn't surprising to me these guys showed a lot of character all year long," Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn said. "We just dug ourselves too big of a hole in the first half. We got some really good shots that were open that we usually make but they did not go down."

Brazelton finished with 31 points and Courtney Lee had 18 on 7-of-29 shooting for the Hilltoppers, who were in their first regional semifinal since 1993.

"We did pretty good job on Courtney Lee," Howland said. "Brazelton was another story. He was a problem for us but overall our defense, especially in the first half, was incredible."