MINNEAPOLIS - The UCLA Bruins probably haven't looked this
dominant since guys named Alcindor and Walton were wearing blue and
The Bruins' late-season roll reached its peak as UCLA put on a
stunning offensive display in a 105-70 victory over Maryland on
Saturday night in the Midwest Regional.
Earl Watson had 17 points and a school-record 16 assists as the
sixth-seeded Bruins connected on six fearsome alley-oops, a
school-record 14 3-pointers and absolutely everything in between.
Spectacular plays began to pile up as UCLA embarrassed the
third-seeded Terrapins' ACC-best defense.
''From the tipoff we just came out so focused,'' said Watson,
who didn't make a turnover. ''I could see it in the team's eyes. We
were ready from the jump.''
The key to everything was Watson, who was heavily criticized
earlier this season for his point guard play. He answered all of
his detractors with a dominant performance that awed the Metrodome
crowd and his teammates alike.
His assists also set a Midwest Regional record and tied the NCAA
tournament record for assists in a first- or second-round game. As
if that wasn't enough, he was 5-of-6 on 3-pointers.
''I don't think I was in the zone,'' Watson said. ''I had the
easiest part. I just had to get them the ball.''
UCLA, which barely made the tournament field after a 19-11
regular season, won its eighth straight game and advanced to face
Iowa State next week. The Bruins have made the round of 16 in three
of Steve Lavin's first four years as coach.
''With all the potential we've got up and down the lineup, we
definitely knew we could get this far,'' Ray Young said.
The Bruins closed the first half with a 22-7 run and made a 16-2
run to start the second half, going up 76-41 just seven minutes
after halftime. UCLA shot 74 percent before the final minutes and
also played impressive defense, limiting Juan Dixon, who made seven
turnovers, to 16 points on 6-of-18 shooting.
''During our preparation for Maryland, I felt pretty confident
about where our team was at,'' Lavin said. ''Our team has continued
to improve, (and) tonight was another breakthrough.''
Maryland coach Gary Williams took three timeouts before the
first TV timeout of the second half in an attempt to slow down
Watson and the Bruins. But UCLA's unstoppable run was led by
Watson, who had consecutive 3-pointers and a dunk on an alley-oop
from Jason Kapono.
Watson also had four steals. Jerome Moiso and JaRon Rush had 14
points apiece for UCLA, while Dan Gadzuric added 13 and Kapono 11.
Moiso, Gadzuric and Watson were a combined 18-of-21 from the field.
Lonnie Baxter had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Terrapins,
who spent most of the second half with their heads hung on the
bench in shock. Maryland failed to reach the round of 16 for just
the third time in the last seven seasons.
UCLA's 14 3-pointers broke the school record of 12 set three
weeks ago in the Bruins' upset of top-ranked Stanford. Watson's 16
assists 12 of which came before halftime beat the UCLA record
of 15 set by Darrick Martin in 1991.
''He did just about everything you can do as a point guard,''
Williams said of Watson. ''He has picked up his game and has become
a very complete player. I think he gets lost sometimes in the
praise for the different members of their team.''
The Bruins hit six of their first eight shots and jumped to a
14-2 lead. In a sequence that was a harbinger of things to come,
Watson blocked a breakaway layup attempt by Maryland's Jason Blake,
got the ball back and threw a halfcourt alley-oop pass to Moiso,
who dunked it.
''They can really put them down,'' Watson said of his teammates'
appetites for the alley-oop passes. ''When you do that, it can
really break a team mentally.''
Maryland came right back with its own 11-2 run and briefly kept
the game close with five 3-pointers in the first half. But Watson
hooked up with Rush for two more ferocious alley-oops that started
UCLA's big run to close the half.
Maryland looked helpless as the exuberant, confident Bruins put
on a display reminiscent of Jerry Tarkanian's loaded UNLV squads of
the early 1990s. On each of the Bruins' trips down the floor, the
fans buzzed with anticipation over what acrobatic feat UCLA would
pull off next.
Moiso had nine rebounds and blocked three shots as every Bruin
in uniform scored. Even Brandon Brooks, who walked onto the
basketball team from the school's water polo team, got a late
basket as his teammates cheered.
''That shows what we've got when all of us are playing,'' Rush
said. ''It's unbelievable. You saw that tonight.''