UCLA rallies late to beat Gonzaga

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 3, 2006

The Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. — Adam Morrison was spread out on the floor in tears while UCLA players danced in celebration around him.

A shocking turn of events in a game Gonzaga controlled for 37 minutes but somehow couldn’t close out.

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Luc Richard Mbah a Moute scored underneath with 10 seconds left and the second-seeded Bruins scored the final 11 points, ending Morrison’s amazing season and likely his college career with a 73-71 victory Thursday night over the third-seeded Bulldogs that sent the Bruins to the regional final.

‘‘I’ve been part of comebacks but this one is the greatest I’ve ever been in,’’ Mbah a Moute said.

UCLA trailed by 17 points in the first half, nine with just over 3 minutes to go and never led until the final seconds, staging a thrilling late-game rally that will be remembered for years at the tradition-rich school with 11 national titles.

‘‘Obviously it was desperation being down nine with 3 minutes left,’’ guard Arron Afflalo said. ‘‘But 3 minutes is a long time and nine points is four possessions. We were very fortunate tonight.’’

Morrison, Gonzaga’s shaggy-haired star, made two free throws with 3:26 to go, giving him 24 points on the night and the Bulldogs (29-4) a 71-62 lead. But the Bruins (30-6) didn’t wilt.

Mbah a Moute scored six of the final 11 points and got a key steal in the final seconds to seal the win and send UCLA to its first regional final since 1997. The Bruins will play Saturday against Memphis (33-3), which beat Bradley 80-64 in the first semifinal of the Oakland regional. The Tigers beat the Bruins 88-80 in November.

After Mbah a Moute stole the ball from Derek Raivio with 2.6 seconds left, Morrison put his hands on his head and bent down, overcome with emotion, fighting tears in what was probably his final game in a Gonzaga uniform. He is expected to turn pro after the season and thanked his teammates in the locker room for the sacrifices they made for him this season.

‘‘We had control of that game for most of the game,’’ Morrison said. ‘‘It just happened in a blur. We just had a few mistakes and you have to take your hat off to UCLA.’’

J.P. Batista missed a desperation 15-footer at the buzzer and fell into the Zags’ bench, where coach Mark Few helped him up.

When the buzzer sounded, UCLA senior Cedric Bozeman ran around the court with the ball in his hands — Ryan Hollins right with him.

‘‘Ah man. No words to explain it,’’ UCLA guard Darren Collison said. ‘‘We just played hard and showed some heart down the stretch. It’s my first comeback ever. That’s why I feel so great.’’

Hollins and Afflalo went to help up Morrison, who was spread on the floor at midcourt. Few then came to hug the crying Morrison.

‘‘That’s just a sign of a great program and great people,’’ Morrison said. ‘‘They had enough guts as a man in their moment of victory to pick another man up off the floor. That’s more than basketball and I would thank them if I could.’’

Mbah a Moute started the comeback with two free throws and then scored on a putback with 2:09 to go to make it 71-66. Morrison, who shot 10-for-17 but missed his last four from the field, missed a jumper with about a minute left and Jordan Farmar scored quickly on the other end to make it a three-point game.

Morrison missed again the next time down and Batista fouled Hollins going for the rebound. Hollins made both free throws to make it 71-70 and the Bruins then stole the ball in the backcourt from Batista, and Farmar got the ball to Mbah a Moute for the go-ahead score.

‘‘We put pressure on the last minutes of the game and never quit,’’ Mbah a Moute said. ‘‘We were just trying to pressure and get a steal. Jordan threw it up and I put it back in.’’

Farmar and Afflalo, UCLA’s stellar guards, each scored 15 despite poor shooting nights. Mbah a Moute added 14 and Hollins had 12.

‘‘It won’t really sink in for a while,’’ Farmar said. ‘‘Just to be a part of it is something special. I don’t know where we got it from, but we dug deep and got it done.’’

Batista had 18 points and nine rebounds and Raivio added 12 points and six assists. Few said his team was ‘‘devastated’’ after the game but told them not to let 20 seconds dictate their whole season.

‘‘It hurts real bad,’’ Raivio said. ‘‘The worst part is we shouldn’t have lost. We had them. They were ripe. The hardest part is losing a game you shouldn’t have lost.’’

The loss by Gonzaga also brings an end to the season-long, cross-country scoring battle between Morrison and Duke’s J.J. Redick, who also lost Thursday. Morrison averaged 28.1 points, edging out Redick, who finished his senior season at 26.8.

Gonzaga took it right to UCLA from the start of a game billed as a showdown for West Coast supremacy. The Bulldogs, criticized much of the year for being a one-man team that plays little defense, proved those theories wrong early.

Using changing defenses and a full-court press at times to keep UCLA off-balance, Gonzaga forced the Bruins to miss their first eight shots and turn the ball over seven times before making their first basket 8:43 into the game to cut it to 18-9.

Things were so bad that both teams got into the bonus before UCLA made its first shot and after back-to-back turnovers against the Bulldogs press, Farmar looked at the bench and shrugged his shoulders looking for any help he could get.

Morrison beat UCLA’s defensive stopper, Afflalo, with a one-hand runner in the lane on the first possession and talked trash as well, yelling ‘‘Let’s go Afflalo!’’ late in the half as if he was looking for a bigger challenge. That challenge game down the stretch.

The referees had to separate Morrison from Bozeman and Afflalo and different points in the game because play was getting too chippy.

The Bulldogs led 42-29 lead at the break, holding UCLA to 7-for-27 shooting, while making 15 of 26 on their end.