Down to Two (UCLA-Memphis, UNC-Kansas)

Well, that was certainly an odd pair of national semifinal games. They were very similar in some ways-- Memphis ran circles around UCLA from start to finish, and Kansas did the same to UNC, save for a ten- or fifteen- minute stretch in the middle of the game.

I watched very little of the Memphis-UCLA game-- I don't really like either team, and it was clear from early on that Memphis wasn't going to be seriously challenged. I had heard that UCLA this year was an improvement over the last two years in that they could actually score some points, but they really seemed to revert to the mold of those earlier teams. They seemed sort of baffled at the idea that they needed to run something on the offensive end of the court, and would pass the ball around in a daze for a few seconds before launching a terrible shot. There was no flow, no motion, no evidence that any practice time had ever been spent on how to get the ball in the basket when the other team was trying to stop them.

Memphis was better than UCLA in just about every area, though perhaps "better" is an overstatement-- Memphis was less bad than UCLA in just about every area. Their offensive sets and shot selection weren't really any better (I saw a couple of jumpers go at least two feet wide of the rim), but it didn't matter much, because they were quicker to the ball, and got lots of easy baskets.

I paid more attention to the Kansas-UNC game, because I like both of those teams more than either UCLA or Memphis. Kansas also came out being quicker to the ball than their opponent, but I was impressed with their coaching. They had obviously been very well prepared regarding what North Carolina did, and how to attack it.

The two most obvious examples both involve Tyler Hansbrough (I know, I know...). On the defensive end, Kansas had clearly listened to Jay Bilas last week, and knew that Hansbrough really only has one offensive move when he gets the ball away from the basket-- he faces up, takes a couple of dribbles, then uses a spin dribble to try to get past his guy. Unlike a lot of teams who have appeared surprised by this play, Kansas knew it was coming, and brought a double-team when Hansbrough turned his back. When he spun back around, there was a defender waiting, and it broke the play up, every time.

On offense, they clearly knew that Hansbrough has a tendency to really hedge out on screens, jumping way out in front of his man to cut off the ball-handler. This can be disconcerting if the guard isn't expecting it, but it leaves an open path to the basket for the guy setting the screen. Kansas exploited this really well, scoring several easy baskets on quick lobs to Hansbrough's man rolling to the basket.

Those are the two that really jumped out at me seeing the highlights this morning, but it was an across the board thing. Every play that UNC runs regularly, Kansas was ready for. And they were quicker than UNC at nearly every position, so Carolina didn't get the easy transition baskets that usually pull them through when their half-court offense sputters. The Tar Heels were reduced to shooting long jumpers, and they didn't hit them, while Kansas got mostly layups.

Monday night's championship game ought to be a real track meet-- both Memphis and Kansas really like to fast break, so I wouldn't expect a great deal of half-court offense. It ought to be a game to warm the heart of an NBA fan.

I can't say I have any great enthusiasm for it, though. I dislike Memphis (Calipari is the poor man's Rick Pitino, and his team is stocked with guys from... interesting high school backgrounds), but I don't have that strong an attachment to Kansas. And I find more and more that I need a real rooting interest if I'm going to listen to two hours of Jim Nantz and Billy Packer.

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Dear Professor Orzel,

This "comment" is completely off the topic of basketball, but I know of no other way to contact you. (Please feel utterly free to moderate it off this thread, in particular.)

I enjoy reading your blog. You turned me on to The Dilbert Blog, which I also enjoy. I particularly enjoyed a recent post of his titled, "Oops," http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2008/03/oops.html

The post links to a story about the lawsuit to stop the $8 billion Large Hadron Collider because it might create a black hole. I have some questions about the physics, and I am writing you in hopes that you might be able to answer them -- or at least grapple with them -- in layman's terms. (I had a couple of physics courses in college, but I struggled then, and that was 30 years ago, so I think I qualify as a layman.)

Okay. Here's my understanding of the set-up: There's a big, powerful machine called the Large Hadron Collider. It's going to send particles screaming towards each other in hopes that "something interesting" will happen, and one of the interesting things that probably won't but "might" happen would be the creation of a black hole. The consequences of the creation of a black hole are what I'm trying to get my mind around.

How big could such a black hole be (at the time of its creation), and how massive could it be? Could it be more massive than the particles that collided with one another? More massive than the particles plus the energy in the particles' velocity (hmm, e=mc^2, so we could maybe translate the energy into mass?)? Would that be more massive than, say the machine itself? Would the black hole be more dense than an atomic nucleus? Because it seems to me that even if you got a tiny black hole, it couldn't start out as being more massive than the earth, so how could it suck in the whole earth?

I dimly, dimly recall a science fiction story, maybe by Larry Niven, that described this kind of scenario. The tiny black hole bored its way into the earth, and (maybe after some oscillations) ended up in the center, eating up the earth from the inside. Is this how you think it would go, if a tiny black hole came into existence in Switzerland? How long do you imagine it would it take for such a black hole to swallow the Earth from within? Would we have time to say good-bye to our loved ones?

I'm partly inviting you to have some fun speculating, and partly I'm writing because I would like to enhance what little I know about black holes, which I now realize is far less than I thought.

Thank you for fielding this question. You are welcome to quote or paraphrase any or all of this, if you decide to blog about it.

By Elizabeth (not verified) on 06 Apr 2008 #permalink

Elizabeth: You want this post at Backreaction, which explores most of the possibilities should a black hole appear at the LHC. The short answer: even if physics is weirder than we think, and black holes don't evaporate (an extremely unlikely possibility), a tiny black hole of the mass they could make at CERN would most likely pass through the entire Earth without absorbing even a single proton, and cruise out into space. We'd never even notice it.

Thank you very much! That's just what I wanted!

And now we return you to our previously-scheduled basketball discussion...

By Elizabeth (not verified) on 06 Apr 2008 #permalink

I watched the UCLA collapse at thoie home of a Physicist friend who'd years ago been a postdoc at UCLA, then the two of us (not to mention my dog) drove to the home of a friend who was also a UCLA alum. The local opinion was that Mephis had not won; UCLA had thrown it away with an uncharacteristically wek second half. This morning's L.A. times explained (with several editorials and interviews elsewhere in the Sports section) as follows.

FINAL FOUR / MEMPHIS 78, UCLA 63
UCLA suffering from the Memphis blues
Bruins can't handle the Tigers and come up empty for the third year in a row.
By Diane Pucin
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

April 6, 2008

SAN ANTONIO -- Memphis had quicker hands and quicker feet than UCLA. Memphis jumped higher and shot with more confidence. Memphis was unfazed by the large stage of the NCAA Final Four and when this national semifinal game between the Tigers and Bruins was over, UCLA seemed diminished.

Memphis defeated UCLA, 78-63, Saturday at the Alamodome, UCLA's worst defeat since it lost to Florida, 73-57, in the national championship game two years ago.

It meant the Bruins (35-4) left the Final Four without a championship for the third year in a row -- the first time a team has left three consecutive Final Fours without a title since Duke in 1988-90.

The Tigers (38-1) will play Kansas, which defeated North Carolina, 84-66, on Monday night in a bid for their first national championship.

UCLA had been beaten twice in a row in the Final Four by Florida, but it was supposed to be different this time because the Bruins had a seasoned junior point guard in Darren Collison and an All-American freshman center in Kevin Love.

But after a beating as thorough as either handed to the Bruins by Florida, Collison and Love fought to keep tears away at the end.

"This one hurt more than the others," said Collison, who had a season-low two points before fouling out.

"I had to keep my emotions in check," Love said, "because we had such a special year."

Love barely managed to keep alive his season-long streak of scoring in double figures. He finished with 12 points on four-for-11 shooting and had nine rebounds after fighting against double teams the entire game.

Memphis freshman point guard Derrick Rose commanded the game with his precision and strength. He had 25 points, made 11 of his 12 free throws and had nine rebounds and four assists.

Rose almost always found his fellow guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, a junior who finished with a game-high 28 points. UCLA sophomore Russell Westbrook, who had taken pride in stopping many of the Pacific 10 Conference's top perimeter players, was dunked over, run around, turned backward and sideways by Douglas-Roberts.

Memphis forward Joey Dorsey, a 6-foot-9, 265-pound senior, didn't score but had 15 rebounds, helping the Tigers outrebound UCLA, 43-36.

"They did a good job of defending us," Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said. "They did a good job of exposing our mismatches and every time we made a mistake they turned it into an opportunity. They did a good job of denying us the ball, they did a good job of double-teaming Kevin.

"At the end of the day they were the better team."

After Collison made his only basket, a five-foot jump shot with five seconds left in the first half, the Bruins felt lucky to trail only 38-35.

"I didn't feel great about how we played the first half," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. "They hurt us in transition. Every time we would turn it over they took advantage. They had nine offensive boards in the first half."

However, there was no momentum gained by Collison's shot at the end of the half.

Rose made two free throws to start the half and Douglas-Roberts beat Westbrook for a layup, giving Memphis an immediate boost, a 42-35 lead and forcing UCLA to call a timeout. Howland said UCLA was fighting an uphill battle the rest of the way.

There was a point where Love rimmed out a three-pointer early in the second half and threw up his hands in frustration and about a minute later when Josh Shipp did the same and Mbah a Moute let the rebound dribble out of his hands, out of bounds. Then Collison turned the ball over twice in a row and the game disappeared for the Bruins.

Dorsey said his main purpose was to get rebounds and make it difficult for Love to catch the ball. He did that job well. Love scored only one basket in the second half and got only five shots.

"They were swarming me," Love said. "They were coming at me. A couple of plays I threw the ball away. Other than that, other players needed to step up and hit big shots."

With 2:53 left and UCLA behind, 63-52, Collison reached around Rose at midcourt and committed his fifth foul. It seemed almost an act of surrender. Collison walked to the bench with his head down and Rose made both free throws.

The game had started out well for UCLA. Mbah a Moute scored an opening layup off a Westbrook feed and Shipp, whose shooting temperature has been taken on a daily basis for the last month, made a three-pointer to give UCLA a 5-0 lead.

That went away in an 11-2 Memphis spurt that started with two free throws by Douglas-Roberts, was followed by an Antonio Anderson three-pointer, layups by Rose and Douglas-Roberts and a Rose dunk on a fastbreak.

"They were jumping over us," said Westbrook, who had a team-high 22 points for UCLA. "Lot of dunking and stuff."

Memphis Coach John Calipari was more satisfied than celebratory afterward.

"We played kind of like we played all year," he said. "We defended."

For that, the Bruins had no defense.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

I watched the UCLA collapse at the home of a physicist friend who'd years ago been a postdoc at UCLA. Then the two of us (not to mention my dog) drove to the home of another UCLA alum. Local feeling was, not that Memphis had won, but that the Bruins had thrown it away with an uncharacteristically weak second half. Today's L.A. Times says as below, along with various interviews and sidebars on the Sports Page.

But first, yesterday's paper had explained how Kevin Love's father was related to the Love in the Beach Boys.

Kurt Streeter:
From Beach Boys to UCLA, Love family has been on L.A. stage
Stan Love puts it in perspective as son Kevin prepares for NCAA Final Four.
April 4, 2008

Stan Love remembers it like it was yesterday, he and his cousin Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys, sitting in the stands together watching a basketball game, eyes focused on Love's prodigiously skilled son, Kevin.

"Brian just kept turning to me and saying, 'Wow, he's good, he's really, really good,'" Love recalls, speaking of the 2006 game at Pauley Pavilion, played when Kevin was still in high school. "And I kept saying, 'You know what, Brian, you're right, he is really good.' "

The moment might have been a small one, but to Stan Love it was deeply meaningful. Through basketball, his son was helping close a fissure in a fractured family, a family important in these parts because they've helped define us.... member of the Love family will have played a role in making people here puff their tanned chests and feel . . . well, frankly, feel proudly Southern Californian.

It figures.

For generations, the Loves and their extended family have been at the center of much that makes Los Angeles what it is, for better or worse.

This is a clan that was part of the vast, Depression-era migration that helped give the culture here a Midwestern flavor, witnessing first hand the waves of racial change that roiled South L.A. in the '50s and '60s.

It's the family -- Stan's brother, Mike, and three of their first cousins -- that formed the nucleus of the Beach Boys: the band that helped convince the world every Los Angeles neighborhood was bordered by a sandy beach stuffed with surfboards and bikinis. It's a family, with Stan Love stuck in the middle, that struggled against something deep in the fabric of this place -- excess, indulgence and the madness that can come with fame in L.A.
[truncated]

Where was I? Oh, right.

FINAL FOUR / MEMPHIS 78, UCLA 63
UCLA suffering from the Memphis blues
Bruins can't handle the Tigers and come up empty for the third year in a row.
By Diane Pucin
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

April 6, 2008

SAN ANTONIO -- Memphis had quicker hands and quicker feet than UCLA. Memphis jumped higher and shot with more confidence. Memphis was unfazed by the large stage of the NCAA Final Four and when this national semifinal game between the Tigers and Bruins was over, UCLA seemed diminished.

Memphis defeated UCLA, 78-63, Saturday at the Alamodome, UCLA's worst defeat since it lost to Florida, 73-57, in the national championship game two years ago.

It meant the Bruins (35-4) left the Final Four without a championship for the third year in a row -- the first time a team has left three consecutive Final Fours without a title since Duke in 1988-90.

The Tigers (38-1) will play Kansas, which defeated North Carolina, 84-66, on Monday night in a bid for their first national championship.

UCLA had been beaten twice in a row in the Final Four by Florida, but it was supposed to be different this time because the Bruins had a seasoned junior point guard in Darren Collison and an All-American freshman center in Kevin Love.

But after a beating as thorough as either handed to the Bruins by Florida, Collison and Love fought to keep tears away at the end.

"This one hurt more than the others," said Collison, who had a season-low two points before fouling out.

"I had to keep my emotions in check," Love said, "because we had such a special year."

Love barely managed to keep alive his season-long streak of scoring in double figures. He finished with 12 points on four-for-11 shooting and had nine rebounds after fighting against double teams the entire game.

Memphis freshman point guard Derrick Rose commanded the game with his precision and strength. He had 25 points, made 11 of his 12 free throws and had nine rebounds and four assists.

Rose almost always found his fellow guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, a junior who finished with a game-high 28 points. UCLA sophomore Russell Westbrook, who had taken pride in stopping many of the Pacific 10 Conference's top perimeter players, was dunked over, run around, turned backward and sideways by Douglas-Roberts.

Memphis forward Joey Dorsey, a 6-foot-9, 265-pound senior, didn't score but had 15 rebounds, helping the Tigers outrebound UCLA, 43-36.

"They did a good job of defending us," Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said. "They did a good job of exposing our mismatches and every time we made a mistake they turned it into an opportunity. They did a good job of denying us the ball, they did a good job of double-teaming Kevin.

"At the end of the day they were the better team."

After Collison made his only basket, a five-foot jump shot with five seconds left in the first half, the Bruins felt lucky to trail only 38-35.

"I didn't feel great about how we played the first half," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. "They hurt us in transition. Every time we would turn it over they took advantage. They had nine offensive boards in the first half."

However, there was no momentum gained by Collison's shot at the end of the half.

Rose made two free throws to start the half and Douglas-Roberts beat Westbrook for a layup, giving Memphis an immediate boost, a 42-35 lead and forcing UCLA to call a timeout. Howland said UCLA was fighting an uphill battle the rest of the way.

There was a point where Love rimmed out a three-pointer early in the second half and threw up his hands in frustration and about a minute later when Josh Shipp did the same and Mbah a Moute let the rebound dribble out of his hands, out of bounds. Then Collison turned the ball over twice in a row and the game disappeared for the Bruins.

Dorsey said his main purpose was to get rebounds and make it difficult for Love to catch the ball. He did that job well. Love scored only one basket in the second half and got only five shots.

"They were swarming me," Love said. "They were coming at me. A couple of plays I threw the ball away. Other than that, other players needed to step up and hit big shots."

With 2:53 left and UCLA behind, 63-52, Collison reached around Rose at midcourt and committed his fifth foul. It seemed almost an act of surrender. Collison walked to the bench with his head down and Rose made both free throws.

The game had started out well for UCLA. Mbah a Moute scored an opening layup off a Westbrook feed and Shipp, whose shooting temperature has been taken on a daily basis for the last month, made a three-pointer to give UCLA a 5-0 lead.

That went away in an 11-2 Memphis spurt that started with two free throws by Douglas-Roberts, was followed by an Antonio Anderson three-pointer, layups by Rose and Douglas-Roberts and a Rose dunk on a fastbreak.

"They were jumping over us," said Westbrook, who had a team-high 22 points for UCLA. "Lot of dunking and stuff."

Memphis Coach John Calipari was more satisfied than celebratory afterward.

"We played kind of like we played all year," he said. "We defended."

For that, the Bruins had no defense.

diane.pucin@latimes.com