Love leads UCLA to third straight Final FourMar 30, 2008 - 3:24 AM UCLA.
The freshman sensation scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the top-seeded Bruins booked a third consecutive appearance in the Final Four with a 76-57 victory over Xavier in the West Regional final on Saturday.
Losing out on adding to its record haul of 11 national titles each of the previous two years due to the presence of eventual champion Florida, UCLA became the first team to reach the national semifinals three straight times since Michigan State from 1999-2001.
"It is unbelievable," Bruins coach Ben Howland said. "I think it has only happened three times since they have gone to the field of 64 so that is a real credit to how good our players are and how they performed under pressure the last four years."
"This win feels good to make our third Final (Four) appearance," UCLA point guard Darren Collison said. "But we have been here before. That feeling is coming back. After the lost to Florida, (it) didn't feel too good. I was telling Luc (Richard Mbah a Moute), the whole season was just erased from us last year. And so we don't ever want to experience that. Definitely this win feels good but we're not satisfied."
The Bruins (35-3) will meet the winner of Sunday's South Regional final in San Antonio - either top seed Memphis or No. 2 Texas - next Saturday. UCLA beat Memphis in the "Elite Eight" in 2006 to begin its run.
The Bruins previously appeared in three Final Fours in a row from 1974-76.
A player expected to play a huge role in UCLA's title hopes, Love scored 11 points after the break to help put away Xavier, including seven in a decisive 14-0 run early in the second half that gave the Bruins a 48-28 cushion with 14:58 to play.
The freshman forward also had a key rebound during the run, grabbing a missed free throw by Russell Westbrook and firing a pass near the top of the key to Collison, who buried one of his three 3-pointers for a 43-28 advantage.
Love, who finished 7-of-11 from the field with two 3-pointers en route to being named the region's Most Outstanding player, notched his third straight double-double in the NCAAs. On the season, the 6-10 forward is one of two freshmen to average a double-double, along with national player of the year candidate Michael Beasley of Kansas State.
"This is by far the best team in the last few years because we have a key ingredient, (an) inside player (Love), that can score and rebound like nobody else in the country along with all the experience of the perimeter play," Howland said.
"I'm just trying to get in where I fit in," Love said. "Just do as the best I possibility can. I know coach Howland and the rest of the coaching staff will put me in the right position to succeed. I just gotta be coachable and go in the right spots and also you gotta be a little bit lucky too. You got to get the right breaks and get the job done."
Collison also had 19 points and Westbrook added 17 for UCLA, which will make a record 17th appearance in the national semifinals, winning its last title in 1995.
"Darren Collison, you appreciate him a lot more when you play against him than watching him on TV," Xavier coach Sean Miller said. "At the end of the (shot) clock, he just is incredible. He can make a shot himself. He makes his teammates better. And he has that dagger ability: When they need it, bang, he delivers. And it is just such ease with the ball at the end of the clock."
Derrick Brown had 13 points for the third-seeded Musketeers (30-7), who lost in a regional final for the second time in five years.
"I can't say enough good things about our three seniors," Miller said. "Josh Duncan, Stanley Burrell, and Drew Lavender led us as deep, in my opinion, as we possibly could have gone. (We had) 30 wins, school record. I think we established ourselves, if not the best team to ever play at Xavier, certainly right there."
Although the Bruins shot 52 percent (13-of-25) in the first half, Xavier was able to hang tough by forcing UCLA into eight turnovers.
Brown had 10 points in the opening 20 minutes and a 3-pointer by Burrell brought the Musketeers within 24-20 with 4:01 left before halftime. However, the Bruins closed the first half with a 9-4 run, taking a 33-24 advantage.
Mbah a Moute had five points during the burst, including a follow shot after a missed 3-pointer in transition by Josh Shipp.
A key member of all three of UCLA's Final Four runs, the native of Cameroon finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end.
The Bruins continued their charge after the intermission, taking advantage of some cold shooting by the Musketeers. Xavier made just 4-of-12 shots - including six straight misses - in a span of 9:03 between both halves, getting outscored, 22-9.
"As far as the game, we just ran into a better team today," Brown said. "I don't think we played as well as we should have or could have. That's how it went."
Duncan scored 11 points and C.J. Anderson added 10 for the Musketeers, who went 4-of-19 on 3-pointers and were outrebounded by a 37-28 margin.
For the game, Xavier shot 36 percent (21-of-58) from the field, its second-lowest total of the season.
"UCLA obviously did a good job on defense," Duncan said. "They pressured us pretty well and, you know, we weren't knocking down shots today and had a couple uncharacteristic turnovers. But, I guess, that's just how it goes sometimes."
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