UCLA center Mike Sanders and forward Kiki Vandeweghe each scored 22 points today to wreck Clemson's zone defense and vault the Bruins past the Tigers, 85-74, in the NCAA West Regional championship game.
UCLA, the eighth seed in the region, will meet Purdue in the national semifinals next week in Indianapolis. The unranked Bruins (21-9) advanced to the final four by defeating Old Dominion, No. 1 De Paul and No. 9 Ohio State and will be shooting for their 11th NCAA title.
UCLA Coach Larry Brown said, "Experiencing a victory like this is what makes college basketball so special. I never thought we could win a game when we weren't emotionally high, but we did, and I think that shows great character."
Brown, the first-year coach trying torestore UCLA to the familiar pinnacle of the John Wooden years, said the Bruins looked drained after defeating Ohio State Thursday night and seemed a little sluggish during today's warmup.
"It's a real relief," Brown said after the title triumph. "There wasn't much celebrating in the locker room; it was more a feeling of relief. We're just lucky to have gotten out of this region."
Clemson (23-9) used a two-one-two zone from the outset and led the Bruins, 30-29, with 5:07 left in the first half.
After a Bruin timeout, UCLA guardRod Foster began working the ball inside to 6-6 Sanders, who responded with eight points working against 6-10 Larry Nance and 6-10 Horace Wyatt. Vandeweghe, meanwhile, threw in a short jumper and dished an assist to Cliff Pruitt for a jam as UCLA clicked off a 17-5 scoring jag to take a46-35 halftime lead.
Clemson stayed in its zone to open the second half and the Bruins went back to work inside, scoring eight points from in close to run off a 9-2 spurt and open a 57-39 margin with 13:45to play. Clemson never climbed back into contention.
Sanders was selected the outstanding player in the regional. He has 67 points and 48 rebounds in four tournament games. Up against a Clemson front line with three 6-10 starters, Sanders, a sophomore averaging six rebounds, and 10.9 points over the season, equalled the combined point output of Nance, Wyatt and 245-pound John Campbell and paced the Bruins with 10 rebounds.
UCLA outrebounded Clemson, 40-34, and shot 55 percent from the field to the Atlantic Coast Conference team's 45 percent. The Bruins were 25 of 33 from the free throw line while Clemson maintained its accustomed erratic free throw shooting going 14 of 21 for 67 percent. Clemson averaged 67 percent from the line for the year.
Sanders used his quickness to run circles around Nance, Campbell and Wyatt.
"I was moving and their big guys wren't keeping an eye on me all the time," Sanders said. And when Clemson pulled in its defense to collapse on Sanders, the swift Foster respondedwith 12 points from the field.
Clemson cut the gap to 12 points with3:49 to play using a shorter lineup of 6-8 Fred Gilliam, Nance, 6-2 Conrad, 6-3 Billy Williams and 6-5 Mitchel Wiggins.
"We came back each time I put in the short lineup," Clemson Coach Bill Foster said. "Had I been smart I might have gone with the short lineup, but you want to go with the people who got you here and that was our front."
Clemson, which won its most games ever this year basically by sweeping its home schedule, defeated Utah State, Brigham Young and Lamar to advance to the final.
Williams led the Tigers with 19 points. Nance scored 13 and was selected to the all-tournament team. Gilliam was Clemson's leading rebounder with nine and also scored 13 points.
"We just haven't played well the lastfew games out here," Foster said. "We just didn't play as well as we did to get here. The last four games wouldn't rank in the top six we have played this year."