Game 36: UCLA 65, Virginia Commonwealth 64

For the longest time, UCLA had the clamps down on Virginia Commonwealth. After a 23-23 tie with 4:39 left in the first half, the Bruins took command and led by as many as 12 points before taking a 10-point advantage into the locker room.

VCU made little runs, but with 6:39 left UCLA was up 57-46 after a slam dunk by Alfred Aboya. Yet the Rams kept pounding on the door, clawing their way back into the game bit by bit.

And then, with 48 seconds left, the door finally opened. Eric Maynor hit two free throws to cut UCLA's lead to 65-64, and on the ensuing possession the Bruins committed a shot clock violation with 11.6 seconds left in the game.

It was after midnight and the Wachovia Center was far from full, but there wasn't a soul sitting down. Nor was there any doubt of where the ball was headed next.

UCLA pressed Rams guard Bradford Burgess after he received the inbounds pass. Then, with nine seconds left, it was time for the man of the hour to take center stage. Burgess gave the ball to Eric Maynor, who drove, hesitated, drove again, and put up the shot as time expired.

It hung in the air, rising slowly and falling... softly... short.

The end. Of the game, VCU's season, and a very chalky day of NCAA Tournament basketball.

Of the four games we saw today here at the Wachovia Center, three higher seeds advanced and a nine beat an eight. Yes, Villanova got a scare, but in the end the result is what counts.

Across the country, the only double-digit winners were 10-seeds Maryland and Michigan and 12-seed Western Kentucky. Of those, only the Hilltoppers' win could be considered an upset, and its significance was greatly diminished by the absence of Illinois starting point guard Chester Frazier.

Perhaps things will be crazier tomorrow, and Temple could have a major role in that. But for tonight, we will have to live with the chalk, even if it means the potential for sizeable TV ratings on Saturday.

Stats from VCU-UCLA:

The Rams shot 20-for-49 from the field (40.8%), including 6-for-15 from three-point range (40.0%) and 14-for-32 from two-point range (41.2%), and 18-for-25 from the free throw line. Ten offensive rebounds, 21 defensive rebounds, 14 assists, 12 turnovers, four blocks, five steals and 17 fouls committed.

That adds up to 61 possessions and 1.041 points per possession.

The Bruins shot 21-for-52 from the field (40.4%), including 6-for-12 from three-point range (50.0%), and 15-for-40 from two-point range (37.5%), and 17-for-19 from the free throw line (89.5%). Nine offensive rebounds, 24 defensive rebounds, nine assists, 12 turnovers, one block, nine steals and 20 fouls committed.

That adds up to 62 possessions and 1.032 points per possession. Yes, UCLA won the game scoring fewer points per possession. But they had one more possession, so there's your margin of victory.

Line of the game goes to UCLA forwrard Nikola Dragovic, as you'll see below. You might not have heard his name much, but he contributed in a lot of ways tonight.


- The UCLA band, cheerleaders and dance team are welcome to return to the east coast whenever they want. Between the fight song, the Hawai'ian shirts and just being UCLA cheerleaders, it's all good.

- VCU had probably three times as many fans as UCLA, but for a bunch of Angelenos the section of Bruins rooters was into the game. Credit in particular to the students who flew across the country. I could not tell if UCLA and former West Catholic track star Nicole Leach was among them.

- The UCLA Bruin mascot is pretty darn verstatile for a guy in a bear costume. He showed some nice dance moves at halftime and was not afraid to stand on the hands of a group of cheerleaders during one second-half media timeout.

- Despite my previous statement about the UCLA band, VCU's won the battle with a far wider range of musical selections. But I found it odd that they had no qualms playing "Rock N' Roll Part II" while their team was behind in the game. I thought the song was meant to be played when you've won it, or before the tip if you're at Maryland.

- Be sure to check out the many photo galleries we have on site of today's action. There's one from Villanova's win, one from Temple's practice in Miami and one from other games across the nation.

On Saturday, UCLA and Villanova will go first at 1:05 p.m., in the full national telcast slot. Texas A&M vs. Connecticut will follow at around 3:30. Other games that will get the attention of fans who look at jersey names include Texas-Duke, Michigan-Oklahoma and Maryland-Memphis.

Someone call the football writers.

I will not be doing much blogging on here tomorrow, because believe it or not I do get days off every once in a while. I will here for live coverage of Temple-Arizona State, however, and I hope you'll join me starting at around 2:30.

Other than that, I encourage all of you to get on Twitter and contribute to the Big Dance; the project has been a great success so far this year and tomorrow brings the potential for even more fun.

And one other thing to think about: As great as it was to be in the arena today, I didn't see nearly as much basketball as you all probably did. Between the dodgy internet connection and a focus on the action here at the Wachovia Center, I missed out on a big part of what makes the first week of the NCAA Tournament so great: trying to follow as many games at once as humanly possible.

So I'll be on the couch tomorrow, chilling out and enjoying the party just like everyone else.

N. Dragovic