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Feeling blue: UCLA knocks Aggies out of NCAA tourney

UCLA 75, USU 50

GREENSBORO, N.C. — E-Gadz.

Utah State's basketball team thought it had seen the intimidating shot-blocking center on Thursday in Ohio State's 6-foot-11 Ken Johnson, who has 444 career blocks, fifth all-time in the NCAA. The Aggies had little trouble with Johnson, gaining their first NCAA win in 31 years against him and his team.

But on Saturday afternoon in their second-round tournament game, 6-11 UCLA junior center Dan Gadzuric weasled his way into their heads early at Greensboro Coliseum, and the Ags hardly resembled the team they have been for the past two seasons, the one that won 56 games and lost just 12.

The 12th loss came on Saturday, when the Aggies fell 75-50 to UCLA and sent Utah State home for the season, ending the careers of seniors Jorssen, Shawn Daniels, Bernard Rock, Curtis Bobb and Dion Bailey.

Gadzuric's impressive presence at both ends of the court — he finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds — allowed the other Bruins to do pretty much whatever they wanted offensively and defensively. "When he's in the game and out of foul trouble," said coach Steve Lavin, "he's as dominant a post presence as there is in the country. When he's in the back of our press, he anchors things defensively. He finishes off the defensive possession because he cleans up the boards. Offensively, he is a great post presence down low."

Utah State actually survived missing 22 consecutive shots in the first half but fell prey to the Bruins' trademark defensive spurt that Lavin had talked about all week midway through the second half.

Fourth-seeded UCLA (23-8) moved on to a meeting with Duke in the Philadelphia Regional Thursday with a win over 12th-seeded Utah State, leaving the Ags with identical 28-6 records for the past two seasons.

Duke, the top seed in the East at 31-4, clubbed ninth-seeded Missouri 94-81 Saturday prior to the USU game.

"I think the biggest difference was in my head, and in our head as a team, because we threw up a lot of shots where it just looked like we were scared," said the Aggies' 7-foot center Jorssen, who might have made it a different game if he had gone strong to the basket against Gadzuric when he had the ball on the baseline in the game's first few minutes. Instead, Jorssen waited and pump-faked. He missed four early shots, at least two of which could have perhaps been dunked over Gadzuric for points and/or fouls that might have made UCLA's Dutchman timid. Instead, the Ags showed indecision.

"It was just some kind of weird fear of going inside and taking it strong to the basket," Jorssen said.

Jorssen said he hadn't gotten Johnson into foul trouble, so he was trying too hard to get Gadzuric on the bench with personals. He "tried to lift him up (with pump fakes), but it's not what I have been doing all year. Me trying to do that threw me off my game."

The Bruins also had Daniels off his game. "Gadzuric just kind of overwhelmed us inside," Daniels said, adding, "With their defense, it was kind of hard to tell where the other defender was. I couldn't see. I was guessing sometimes. Their rotation was different than I had seen."

Daniels led USU scorers with 11 points, while Jorssen was 1-for-10 for four points.

That left it up to the perimeter players, and, after Curtis Bobb and Tony Brown each hit their first shot attempts, they were 3-for-12 and 3-for-14, respectively. "I missed a lot of open jumpers. It was just one of those days," Brown said.

"When we first came out, we were a little hesitant to go inside," said Bobb, who had seven points, nine rebounds and three assists. "Gadzuric is a good athlete and pretty good shot blocker, and we kind of hesitated in taking the ball at him. We head-faked him, and normally we just take it stronger. I think he kind of altered our shots. We kind of backed down, and we eventually started struggling even more than we were."

A Brown three put USU up 9-6, but the Aggies would not score again until Brennan Ray made two free throws more than 10 minutes later, and they eventually missed 22 shots in a row until a Bobb three nearly 14 minutes later, at 2:55. Yet they were only down 24-15.

Three Bruin layups — one of those spurts — left the halftime score 30-19, USU's lowest-scoring half since 14 points at Northern Arizona in November 1999.

Jorssen opened the second half with a strong reverse layup through two Bruins and made two free throws to start a 12-4 Aggie run that got them within 36-32. They were down 41-36 when the bottom fell out. Center Jeremy Vague got his fourth foul 26 seconds before Jorssen got his fourth foul. Leading 45-36, UCLA made three straight backcourt steals off its vaunted press, and Gadzuric blocked two Aggie shots and Matt Barnes one, and the Bruin advantage was 15 and climbing. Just like that. Just like Lavin kept saying all week.

"That basically put an end to it right there," said Bobb.

"The turning point was when we turned it over three times in a row," said Daniels. "We just didn't take care of the ball down that stretch."

Said Morrill, "Even with all that, we were within five with 10 minutes to go. We had played so poorly offensively, and we're within five with 10 minutes to go. You look at the score, and I don't think that's reflective of the fact that we got back in the game."

Bruin Jason Kapono led all scorers with 19 points and Earl Watson scored 16 for UCLA.


E-mail: lham@desnews.com