OAKLAND, Calif. -- UCLA center George Zidek spent the days leading up to last night's West Regional semifinal listening to what the Bruins would not be able to do against Mississippi State's intimidating center, Erick Dampier.
"Going into the game [Dampier] was supposed to break us down and intimidate us inside, at least that was what was in the media," Zidek said. "My main focus was to stop him."
That Zidek definitely did -- with a little help from his friends.
Dampier, a 6-foot-11 sophomore, was coming off a brilliant performance last week against Utah, when he had 21 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks. The good news for Mississippi State was that he did hit all of his shots; the bad news was that he only took four in his Bulldogs' 86-67 loss to UCLA last night at the Oakland Coliseum.
The win extended the nation's longest winning streak to 16 games as the Bruins, in the 20th anniversary of the school's last national championship team in 1975, improved to 28-2. They will face Connecticut in the regional final tomorrow.
Mississippi State, hurt by 37.1 percent shooting for the game, ended its season at 22-8.
The Bruins led by as many as 36 points in the game, in which UCLA put away the Bulldogs with a 22-4 run to end the first half. Dampier had just one shot in 17 first-half minutes, and the Bulldogs, who set school records this season for three-point field goals attempted and made, missed all 11 of their three-point shots in the first half.
"They came out ready to play, and we didn't," said guard T. J. Honore, who hit just two of 10 shots. "In the first half, we didn't come ready to play, and it was embarrassing. I was not surprised by their play; I was surprised at ours."
With Honore and Darryl Wilson (22 points, five of 14 from three-point range) unable to hit the outside shots, it allowed the Bruins to collapse two and sometimes three players on Dampier, who finished with 11 points, four rebounds and four blocks.
"He had four shots, but if you count the number of touches, he had more than that," Mississippi State coach Richard Williams said. "Jim Harrick had a great game plan. They took a shot with our perimeter shooting, and they just weren't falling for us. They didn't let us get into our offense all game."
UCLA had a hard time getting into its offense as well at the game's start, and the score was 18-15 with 8:57 left in the half after a layup by Marcus Bullard.
Then the Bruins responded with their impressive 22-4 run to end the half. Ed O'Bannon scored 10 of his game-high 21 points over the last 6:35 of the half, which ended with a 40-19 lead by UCLA.
"The first 30 minutes was as good as you could want to play," Harrick said. "That performance will get you a lot of wins."
And so will the performance by Zidek, who plays in the shadows of the O'Bannon brothers and guard Tyus Edney. Zidek scored 11 points. For a 7-foooter, two rebounds is not that impressive, but the senior from the Czech Republic was able to lean his 7-foot, 250 pound body all over Dampier.
"Basically what I was trying to do was drive [Dampier] out of his comfort zone," said Zidek.
Mission accomplished, as Dampier was unable to get comfortable all game.
"George Zidek was brilliant. He kind of dominated the game in the first half," Harrick said. "He did a good job on Dampier.
And helped the Bruins, 4.8 seconds away from being eliminated last week, to Saturday's West Region final. UCLA last appeared in a Regional Championship game in 1992, when it lost to UCLA in a West Region final in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
"When you get this far along, only one team is going to be happy at the end of the season and that's the team that wins the national championship," Williams said. "UCLA could very well be that team. That's a well-coached team, believe me."