OAKLAND, Calif. -- Maybe UCLA coach Jim Harrick was right, saying that perhaps his team wasn't as focused playing a second-round game against an eighth-seeded Missouri team last week. But there was no question that the Bruins were focused last night in their West Regional semifinal against Mississippi State.
The top-seeded Bruins ended a somewhat sluggish first half with a 22-4 run, and had several leads of over 30 points in last night's 86-67 win over fifth-seeded Mississippi State at the Oakland Coliseum.
It was the 16th straight win for UCLA, which, in this the 20th anniversary of the last NCAA championship team in 1975, improved to 28-2. Mississippi State ended its season with a 22-8 record.
Mississippi State had set school records this season in three-pointers made and attempted. But the Bulldogs were unable to recover from a first half when they missed all 11 of their three-point attempts and could muster no kind of outside offensive game.
Ed O'Bannon had no problem with his offensive game, scoring 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds to lead the Bruins.
Mississippi State was looking to earn some of the national respect that it felt had eluded it this season, playing in the shadows of better-known teams in the tough Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs had beaten both Kentucky and Arkansas this season, but as last night's game wore on, they looked like a team that benefited from a draw that matched them against Santa Clara and Utah in the first two rounds.
"When you get this far along, only one team's going to be happy at the end of the season -- the team that wins the national championship," Mississippi State coach Richard Williams said. "UCLA could be that team. They didn't let us get into our offense all game. They did a good job on [Erick] Dampier, and we couldn't knock down our perimeter shots."
With 10 minutes left in the game, Mississippi State still had not scored its 30th point as its leading scorers, Dampier and Darryl Wilson, could muster no offensive attack. Wilson's 20 points led Mississippi State, but many of those came when Harrick had inserted his bench. Dampier, who was impressive with 21 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks in the second-round win over Utah, finished with 11 points.
Mississippi State was unable to put together any offensive effort in the first half, their 19 points scored just one more than their season low for the first 20 minutes. Yet UCLA was unable to put away the Bulldogs early, needing a 22-4 run at the end of the half to take a 40-19 halftime lead.
Much was said about Mississippi State 6-11 center Dampier going into the game, after he put together two huge efforts in first- and second-round games in Boise last week. But Dampier would score just two first-half points -- partly because the Bruins collapsed two and sometimes three players in the pivot, and partly because the Bulldogs were unable to hit shots from the perimeter.
"[Dampier] had four shots, but if you count the number of touches, he had more than that," Williams said. "Jim had a great game plan. They took a shot with our perimeter shooting, and they just weren't falling for us."
The Bulldogs had nine first-half field goals, seven within five feet. Two of the team's top shooters from the outside, guards Wilson and T. J. Honore, were missing in action. Wilson, who was averaging 17.7 points, was 2-for-9 from the field in the half and scored five points. Honore missed all three of his first-half shots. The Bulldogs missed all 11 of their first-half three-point attempts, and were 0-for-14 on shot attempts outside the lane.
"Defensively in the first half was the finest job we've done all year," UCLA coach Jim Harrick said. "[Center] George Zidek was brilliant. He kind of dominated the game in the first half. He did a good job on Dampier."
Said Zidek: "Going into the game [Dampier] was supposed to break us down and intimidate us inside. My main focus was to stop him."