UCLA's Stingy Defense Meets Formidable Foe In Morrison

March 23, 2006

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - Every team that faces Adam Morrison and Gonzaga seems to try some new wrinkle to slow the nation's leading scorer.

Not many have worked.

"I've seen triangle-and-two, box-and-one, face guard ... I've seen everything," Morrison said. "Nothing really surprises me anymore. I knew coming in this year I was going to get a lot of that similar type of stuff. When teams do that, it opens it up for everybody else."

Next up for Morrison is UCLA, which is playing some of the best defense around right now. The Bruins have won nine straight, allowing 54 points per game and not allowing any opponent to top 60 points.

But when the second-seeded Bruins (29-6) face the third-seeded Bulldogs (29-3) in the third round of the Oakland regional on Thursday night, they will get one of their toughest tests yet.

"He can score from 3, he can score off the bounce, he can score in the post, he rebounds his own shot as well as anybody," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "He poses a lot of problems. There's only a handful of people that are playing the game in college that would ever be talked about in that same light."

Morrison's teammates relish the attention put on their star with the throwback game and distinctive mustache. Because all that focus on Morrison opens up opportunities for J.P. Batista (19.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg) and the rest of the team, which has won 20 straight games.

"I love everyone telling me I'm in the shadow of Adam Morrison because I don't like being in the spotlight," Batista said. "All year long people have been talking about Adam Morrison scoring 30 points a game, 40 points a game. But who sets the screens for Adam Morrison? Who plays defense? It's Derek Raivio, Sean Mallon, Erroll Knight and company. It's no one guy. It's great because it's going to get me shots, it's going to get everybody shots."

Morrison, who averages 28.2 points, is coming off a 5-for-17 shooting performance in the second round win against Indiana when he scored 14 points - only the sixth time this season he's been held under 20 points.

With his floppy hair, awkward gait, old-school game and big-shot ability, Morrison has drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer Larry Bird.

"People have to realize I'm not trying to be Larry Bird and I'll never be Larry Bird because that always gets mentioned," he said. "I'm not Larry Bird. He was a three-time NBA champion, three-time MVP. I'm a college player. People need to realize that. I'm just trying to win games for Gonzaga. Just because I like him doesn't mean I'm going to be the next Larry Bird. The expectations are a little high."

Morrison scored 35 in the opening round against Xavier and has topped 40 points five times this season, something the Bruins laughed about when asked if they could imagine someone scoring that many against their stingy defense.

Arron Afflalo, who will likely get the first shot at stopping Morrison, forced Ronald Steele into a key miss down the stretch of a 62-59 win over Alabama in the second round and the Bruins held Belmont to 44 points in their opener.

"My job is to stop the opposing team's best guard, just limit him as much as possible" Afflalo said. "One of the luxuries of attending UCLA is I get a lot of opportunities to play against pros throughout the summertime. I've gone to a few camps, played with Michael Jordan, Paul Pierce. I've had my share of experience throughout the year. Just another game for me."

The Bruins have perhaps the nation's top backcourt in Farmar and Afflalo, the sophomore stars who have played such a key role in UCLA's resurgence from an 11-17 record in Howland's first season in 2003-04 to a trip to the regional semifinals this season.

Both players talked about how getting UCLA back to the level it was at when the Bruins won 11 national titles played a big role in their decisions to join the team.

"The years just prior to us being there weren't going so well," Farmar said. "Being able to have the opportunity to come in and make an impact and really turn the program around to get it back on track to where it was, was probably the most intriguing part about UCLA."


 

 

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