Kansas Knocked Out Of Big Dance

Saturday, March 24th 2007, 8:39 pm
By: News On 6

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Arron Afflalo overcame his history of mediocre big-game performances, leading UCLA back to the Final Four.

In an exceptional 2nd half, Afflalo scored 15 of his 24 points and the Bruins held off top-seeded Kansas for a 68-55 victory Saturday night in the West Regional championship.

Afflalo also played stellar defense and Darren Collison added 14 points and 4 big free throws in the final seconds. The Bruins (30-5) made their halftime lead stand up in an appropriately tense meeting between two schools with rich traditions and a combined 30 Final Four appearances -- including an NCAA-record 17th for UCLA next week in Atlanta.

The Bruins, who lost to Florida in last season's national title game, could be in for a rematch: They'll meet Sunday's winner of the Gators' regional final against Oregon.

Brandon Rush scored 18 points for the Jayhawks, the first No. 1 seed to be eliminated from the tournament. Their 14-game winning streak also was snapped in the school's first NCAA tournament loss in California, where this game had a decided home-court feel for the Bruins.

UCLA has never lost to Kansas in five NCAA tournament meetings, and the Bruins are 17-3 in regional finals. UCLA also has back-to-back 30-win seasons for the first time since 1972-73, when two of John Wooden's 10 championship-winning teams each went 30-0.

"It feels good," Collison said. "We felt that we didn't finish the job last year, so we're going to enjoy this moment, and then go back and try to finish it."

Afflalo's teammates surrounded him in celebration after the buzzer, and the pro-UCLA crowd chanted "One more year!" at the smiling junior as he pulled on a commemorative T-shirt and hat.

The Bruins edged ahead of North Carolina in Final Four appearances. The Tar Heels have 16 going into Sunday's East Regional final against Georgetown.

Though Kansas (33-5) is loaded with star talent, the 2nd-seeded Bruins returned with several major contributors to last season's run. That experience showed in every pressure-packed possession of a match-up between two teams that began the season with the Final Four as their only acceptable destination.

Afflalo felt more pressure than most: Though he was the Pac-10's player of the year and the Bruins' acknowledged leader, he had a dismaying habit of disappearing in big games.

Afflalo struggled in both of the Bruins' Final Four contests last season, scoring a combined 19 points against LSU and Florida. He managed just 3- points in this season's conference tournament loss to California, and he was ineffective for long stretches of the Bruins' last two victories in the NCAA tournament.

He had no such trouble this time, hitting a series of clutch baskets with a dwindling shot clock in the second half as UCLA nursed a lead. Collison, the point guard who succeeded Jordan Farmar in this season's starting lineup, also helped with his heady playmaking.