UCLA still feeling the heat after close call against W. Kentucky


For UCLA, Friday was a day to apologize for beating Western Kentucky by only 10 points and for not dominating its NCAA tournament opponents in the same way fellow No. 1-seeded teams North Carolina, Kansas and Memphis have been doing.

It was a day for Bruins Coach Ben Howland to admit that if he'd had another guard, Russell Westbrook wouldn't have been given the opportunity to miss 12 shots Thursday night, and for freshman center Kevin Love to not be bashful and say that he was disappointed in the way junior point guard Darren Collison put himself on the bench with five fouls.

Yet top-seeded UCLA is still winning. For the 21st time in their history, the Bruins will play in the Elite Eight. In the West Regional final Saturday at US Airways Center, UCLA (34-3) will play Xavier (30-6), which is in only its second regional final.

UCLA is 17-3 in Elite Eight games. Xavier is 0-1.

But when you don't have the burden of history, there is also more free-wheeling joy because the occasion is not commonplace.

UCLA gave up 58 points in the second half of its 88-78 win over 12th-seeded Western Kentucky on Thursday night and committed a season-high 19 turnovers.

The Bruins succumbed to a fearsome press defense and because their only three scholarship guards &

Collison, Westbrook and Josh Shipp &

were in serious foul trouble for the first time this season, there was a sudden sense of vulnerability about a team that has won its last 13 games and its conference regular-season and tournament titles.

"We did get frazzled for a few minutes," Shipp said. He was speaking about how the Hilltoppers went from a 21-point deficit to within two baskets while getting Collison fouled out and Westbrook playing cautiously with four fouls. "But we gained it right back."

Shipp spoke with a hint of defiance. His game has been examined and re-examined in the last three weeks because his jump shot had seemingly abandoned him. Yet, when the 35-second shot clock ticked below five, and UCLA led only 65-59, and Collison was chewing his nails on the bench, Shipp made a 25-footer, a momentum-killer for the Hilltoppers.

And it was Shipp who would have been called upon to play point guard by Howland had Westbrook gotten his fifth foul.

Since junior swingman Michael Roll injured his left foot and was lost for the season Dec. 31, Howland has juggled three perimeter players. Westbrook plays the point when Collison rests. Shipp plays the shooting guard when Westbrook is at the point or is resting.

Thursday night, both Collison and Westbrook had four fouls with 10:08 left in the game and Collison was gone with 5:39 left.

"All season it's been Darren, Josh, Russell at guard," forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said. "And then what happened against Western created a lot of doubts for us. Hopefully this was the last time that would happen that they'd all get in foul trouble."

Mbah a Moute said he would have offered to play point guard if Westbrook had fouled out and Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, a non-scholarship player, said he had his warm-up shirt off and was ready to sprint into the lineup. But Howland's plan for such an emergency was to have Shipp play point guard and sophomore Nikola Dragovic become the small forward.

It is a situation Shipp said would be fine, but it is one the Bruins don't want to face again.

"Having Darren fouled out, that was unacceptable," Love said. "Darren knew he slipped up a little bit. He made some mistakes. We all do. He's maybe the best point guard in the country. He'll come out and have a great game tomorrow."

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