With the cherry trees on campus showing their first blooms of the season, the Washington Huskies produced a major sign of rebirth by knocking off the conference-leading Bruins in a clash of the top ranked teams in the Pac-10. From the opening tip, the national television audience was treated to a coach's clinic on tenacious defense as No. 13 UCLA held the Huskies to 32-percent shooting and the energized Dawgs forced 14 turnovers in the first half. Following 10 second-half lead changes and a total of 54 fouls, the battle ended, appropriately, with a game-saving block as the Huskies prevailed 70-67.
"You ask me who the most physical team is in the Pac-10, UCLA has got to be it," said coach Lorenzo Romar. "They are very physical and they came after us. Wow, I give our guys a lot of credit because our guys came right back at them. It was a street fight for 40 (minutes)."
The Huskies erased the bitter taste of the three-game losing streak with a celebratory swig as they beat the Bruins for the third consecutive time, giving them a 3-0 record against teams ranked in the top 15 this season. By snapping the Bruins' six game Pac-10 run, Washington posted its longest winning streak over UCLA since 1952 and the beginning of the John Wooden era in Westwood.
Brandon Roy led the Dawgs with 20 points and seven assists, repeatedly drawing the defense and dishing or earning a trip to the foul line. Roy, who was named to the Midseason Wooden All-America Team, finished with 13-of-16 shooting from the line, but his biggest contribution may have been his part in the vise-like perimeter defense. Matched up with Jordan Farmar for much of the game, Roy harassed the hobbled Bruin point guard into a handful of turnovers and a dismal shooting afternoon. His block of Farmar's 3-point attempt in the final seconds sealed the redemptive victory.
"We needed him to defend and just put the clamps on the best play-maker in our league and one of the best play-makers in the country, he stepped up," said Romar. "To put Jordan Farmar in a situation, the great player that he is, to go 2-for-13 with seven turnovers, that's pretty impressive."
Bobby Jones, who had four of his 10 points in the final 2:07, did an equally impressive job on Arron Afflalo, holding the Bruins' leading scorer to five points, 12 below his average, on 2-of-10 shooting. Farmar scored eight of his 13 points from the line, but the sophomore standouts were shut down after scoring 32 of UCLA's 50 points in Pullman Thursday.
"I think our entire perimeter, Bobby included, Brandon, Justin, just got down and played phenomenal basketball today in whatever way they could," Romar remarked. "Bobby did another nice job."
In a classic game that saw no more than a four-point advantage in the final 17 minutes, the Huskies got the first break of the second half when UCLA center Ryan Hollins fouled out with 11:54 remaining. The oft-maligned, but improving big man had seven points and eight rebounds in the first half, but picked up three fouls in the span of 54 seconds shortly after the break. Hollins was one of 10 players (five per team) with four or more personals as the Huskies were able to compensate for a rebounding deficit (26-34) by hitting 28 of 34 free throws.
The Dawgs had some success by double-teaming the ball up top and with an occasional trap. Jones picked Farmar and took his fourth steal all the way for a lightening-quick jam that jolted Edmundson Pavilion to its feet with 6:40 remaining. Alfred Aboya, the reserve forward from Cameroon who led UCLA with 15 points, converted consecutive 3-point plays to give the Bruins a 60-58 lead with 3:39 left. Jamaal Williams, one of four Huskies in double figures, keyed the UW rebuttal with a jump hook from the right baseline and a block on the ensuing possession. Bobby Jones capitalized with a jumper at the charity stripe off a pass from Roy for a 64-60 UW advantage.
The savvy Farmar drew a foul on Williams, his fifth, on a leaning attempt in the lane and hit both freebies to cut the lead to a deuce at 1:41. Roy was forced to call a timeout when a blow to his elbow caused his hand to go numb, but came back with the assist of the game. Drawing a double team on a left-side drive, the Pac-10's leading scorer found an open Jon Brockman on the other block for the most important dunk of the freshman's life.
Jones nearly rejected the Bruins for good on the following play, but his block of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute's layup was whistled for a goaltending that spliced the lead to 66-64 with 33 ticks left. Without any timeouts - UCLA had burned their last one with 3:56 left - the Bruins were forced to foul and Jones drained both, reminiscent of his clinchers at Pauley Pavilion four weeks prior.
But then the ghosts of the Bay Area defeats came back to haunt the Huskies. Justin Dentmon was whistled for a blocking violation with Farmar knocking down two for a 68-66 count. The Huskies were able to break the full court pressure with a long pass to Brockman, but the frosh seemed to panic and forced an unnecessary pass that Darren Collison collected before colliding with Dentmon, drawing a foul with 9.2 seconds. Ah, but the fickle basketball gods smiled upon the Dawgs as Collison, a freshman guard, missed the first of two free throws and Dentmon hit two redeemers for the 70-67 margin with 8.1 seconds. The block of Farmar's game-tying attempt provided the happy ending that seemed destined at Stanford two weeks ago.
Outside of his last-minute stumble, Dentmon had a solid game with 16 points - one shy of his career high - four rebounds, and two assists. The goat of the Stanford loss is finding his stroke with a 5-of-9 performance Saturday, including a rare 3-pointer, and a cool 5-of-6 from the line.
"He got up off the canvas and he just got right back in there," Romar said of the freshman's fortitude after the mental mistake in Palo Alto. "I knew it was bothering him and I think what we are seeing here in the last three games is Justin Dentmon in the quietness of his own mind saying, 'I'll make it up.' And it's nice to see that he's come back and done a great job."
Dentmon saw limited action in the second-half comeback at Pauley, but it was the Bruins that struggled with turnovers this time, committing 20, two short of their season high. The Huskies converted those mistakes into 24 points, while only allowing five points off their own giveaways.
With the first sweep of UCLA since 1987 the Huskies (18-5, 7-5) moved up in the Pac-10 race and are now tied for fourth place in the loss column with Arizona (15-9, 8-5). Most importantly, it pulled the Dawgs within two games of the three-loss Bruins and Cal Bears with three weeks to go in the conference schedule.
"It was more the (nature of the) game that made it feel so good. They were fighting and scrapping and we were able to outlast them," said a jubilant Roy, who gave his younger teammates some words of encouragement in the final minute. "I'm just excited that we pulled off the big win. We could have been 0-17, but to win a game like that tonight - they really wanted this win and we took it from them."
Roy wasn't the only one who was impressed with Washington's effort. UCLA coach Ben Howland thought the game helped legitimize both of the teams and the conference.
"They're a very good team. Washington has a chance to really go a long way," said Howland. "If anyone is questioning the level of play in the Pac-10, they should watch this game because we have a good team and it was two teams just clawing and scratching."
By clawing and scratching their way back into the Pac-10 race, the Huskies took a step away from March frustration and a step towards March Madness.