Tigers Take on Bruins

Kevin Love kept backing up, and a hush fell over the crowd at the Alamodome. They knew what was coming next: The only true long shot at this Final Four.

From full court, the UCLA freshman started launching two-handed heaves at practice Friday.

On his 12th try, bingo! Love banked it home, drew a big ovation and took a full bow.

Come Saturday, UCLA figures to leave the trick shots to Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Memphis.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Memphis -2 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 60% of bets for this game have been placed on Memphis -2 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

``If I'm a fan, I'd want to watch Memphis play,'' Love said. ``They dunk the ball a lot, they're flashy.''

The first NCAA semifinal shapes up as classic offense vs. defense matchup. Will the Tigers' ``dribble drive motion'' system get them to the basket against the taller Bruins?

Memphis likes to leave the lane open, put the ball in the hands of its many playmakers and head to the hoop, hoping something good will happen.

Most of the time it works.

The Tigers (37-1) overwhelmed Michigan State and Texas in the South Regional in their bid to win the first men's basketball championship in school history.

While the city of Memphis has embraced them - Graceland is lit up in Tigers blue this week - the college basketball world hasn't exactly backed a team that doesn't start a single player from Tennessee.

Many top analysts predicted Memphis would become the first No. 1 seed to lose in the tournament. All four made it this far, with North Carolina and Kansas meeting in the second semifinal.

UCLA (35-3) is making its third straight Final Four appearance while Memphis comes in with an edge, sounding an us-against-the-world theme.

``We are not the prestigious program like North Carolina, Kansas and UCLA. We are Memphis from Conference USA. That is how everyone views us, so we all have a chip and are out to prove them wrong,'' said Douglas-Roberts, an All-America guard. ``Those are the royalty programs. We're not one of those. But we believe we belong here.''

Coach John Calipari insists the Tigers didn't get that from him. Well, whatever.

``Now, the other programs are more highly thought of than Memphis, and they should be. Between UCLA and Memphis, we've won 11 national titles,'' he said. ``That's a good number.''

Calipari, however, did bring in former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian to talk to the Tigers on Thursday. They're similar, in a way, both mavericks who turned non-BCS schools into elite powers.

UCLA has taken a more conventional path, built on the tradition of John Wooden, Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor. The Bruins also have done it the last few years with Ben Howland's rugged defense.

``As a coach, I understand that's what wins. And it's true in any sport,'' he said. ``It's really clear defense is a constant you have the most control over as a team, because it's effort and preparation every day.''

That's fine with junior Darren Collison, who likely will start out guarding the acrobatic Rose.

``I mean, it's the reason why we're here, because of his defensive philosophy,'' Collison said. ``You know, he really does talk about offense in practice, and practice is nothing like the games. It's real physical. Guys are hurt every day. Nicks and nags every day.''

Memphis prefers to play at an up-tempo pace, grabbing rebounds and rushing the ball upcourt. The Tigers scored 90 points eight times this season and topped 100 in three games. UCLA has not reached 100 points in a game since December 2002; the Bruins never even scored 90 this season.

Then again, UCLA held little Mississippi Valley State to 29 points last month, the fewest in the NCAA tournament since 1946.

Rose could hit that all by himself.

Extremely athletic, the third-team All-America guard might well play his final college game in the next few days. The freshman, however, is glad he didn't jump straight from high school to the pros.

``I am not ready for the NBA right now,'' he said. ``I need to improve on my ballhandling, basketball IQ, being a more vocal leader.''

One thing he does not need to work on his acrobatic shots. Be it a rim-rattling dunk or something more improvised, he's got quite an array.

That said, he will leave the really long-distance gunning to Love. They've played with and against each other since seventh grade, and Rose will concede that his longtime pal might take him in a H-O-R-S-E competition.

``I mean, that's full court, almost the whole court,'' Rose said. ``Got to be much, much harder to do that.''

Love, by the way, finished 1-for-28 on those heaves.

``I've been working with him on that half-court and full-court shot all year,'' Howland said, ``and it's starting to pay dividends.''

Here are some key trends to consider for today's matchup:

- UCLA is 61-43 ATS (+13.7 Units) in all games over the last 3 seasons.

- UCLA is 61-43 ATS (+13.7 Units) in all lined games over the last 3 seasons.

- MEMPHIS is 70-48 ATS (+17.2 Units) after scoring 80 points or more since 1997.

- UCLA is 1-1 against the spread versus MEMPHIS over the last 3 seasons

- UCLA is 1-1 straight up against MEMPHIS over the last 3 seasons

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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