|Sense of urgency by a freshman puts Bruins in Final Four|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 29 March 2008 16:41|
That will be by his own design, of course, but he wasn't about to let UCLA fritter away another big lead Saturday against another underdog in Xavier. Not on his watch, certainly not after he had chewed out his teammates for almost kicking one away two nights before.
``Unacceptable,'' he fumed then. ``Unacceptable.''
There shouldn't have been any need to repeat the message because Darren Collison and the rest of the supporting cast in powder blue and gold seemed to get it loud and clear. Many of them have been to two Final Fours, but still they defer to the big freshman who runs their team with the savvy of a senior point guard.
Little wonder that, in the jubilation following the 76-57 win in West Regional that Love almost single-handedly turned into a blowout, Collison hopped on Love's back and took a ride around the court. It seemed appropriate, because they've been riding him almost from the moment practice began last fall on the UCLA campus.
He's listed as the UCLA center. He lists himself as a creator.
For the first five minutes of the second half, he was simply the dominator.
The 6-foot-10 nephew of Beach Boy Mike Love made it a one-man show when Xavier cut a nine-point halftime lead to just six early in the second half, beginning with a dunk off a pass from Josh Shipp. Love then hustled down the court to block a shot by Drew Lavender, somehow saved it from going out of bounds, and hit Collison streaking down the left side for an easy basket.
Minutes later, Love grabbed a rebound off a missed UCLA free throw and got it to Collison for a 3-pointer, then hit a layup underneath.
He topped it all off with a 3-pointer of his own, and suddenly it was 48-28 and the game was all but over. In just five minutes and three seconds, Love had eight points, five boards, a great save and another great assist.
The five Musketeers of Xavier never had a chance.
``He looks like he's 25 years old when he's playing,'' Xavier coach Sean Miller said. ``He makes the game look easy. Everything just really starts and stops with him.''
Love had 19 points and 10 rebounds, but the numbers don't even begin to tell the story of a basketball prodigy whose time with the Bruins seems certain to end at the latest a week from Monday in San Antonio.
Love will surely be playing for money next year, and lots of it. There's not much reason to stick around when his skills could be better put to use in a league that pays in cash instead of textbooks.
Fans chanted three more years as Love and his teammates celebrated on the court, but the chant soon changed to one more year. Love heard this one, cupped his hand behind his ear, and they chanted even louder.
But few expect to see him anywhere but in the NBA next season, even if Love tried to deflect the question afterward.
``I'm not even thinking of the next level. I'm living now in the present and thinking of the games this weekend,'' Love said.
Love, whose father had a brief NBA career, is such a sponge of basketball knowledge that he struck up a relationship with famed coach John Wooden when he was still in high school. A big man weighing 260 pounds, he plays with the mentality of a point guard, urging teammates to go one way or another and giving them withering looks when they don't do as told.
One minute he's down underneath looking for an entry pass. The next he's up at the top of the key setting a screen that defenders quit trying to break through after getting a few bumps and bruises.
Go to sleep for just a second and he's inbounding a made basket to a teammate streaking the length of the court for an easy score.
``He does whatever it takes to make his team win,'' UCLA coach Ben Rowland said. ``He's also very verbal. He's intelligent and he has the respect of his teammates.''
In what was basically a home game for UCLA, Love made sure there were going to be no letdowns like the kind that occurred Thursday night against Western Kentucky, when the Bruins blew a 21-point lead and allowed the Hilltoppers back in the game.
With a little more than a minute left in a blowout, Xavier senior Stanley Burrell left the court in tears, his college career over. At the same time, Love stood smiling and laughing with three teammates, knowing their spot in the Final Four was secure.
Love's career may be over soon, but for different reasons. Despite the please of fans, the lure of the NBA will likely be too much, as it usually is with players of his caliber.
He's got two games to win to take a national championship with him.
The sense of urgency only figures to grow.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org