Just over a decade ago, the UCLA basketball team had one of their most memorable NCAA Tournament games, which sparked the first of three straight Final Fours for Ben Howland’s Bruins.
The UCLA basketball team has not been to a Final Four in over a decade, and though they have several great memories during their run of three straight Final Fours under Ben Howland, arguably their most memorable came in the Sweet 16 of their first run during the 2006 NCAA Tournament.
During the 2005-06 season, two season after, Ben Howland took over, the Bruins coach had them rolling. UCLA ran through the regular season with a 24-6 overall record and a 14-4 mark in the Pac-10, winning them the regular season title. After blasting through the Pac-12 Tournament with an average margin of victory of 22.7 points, the Bruins were ready for the NCAA Tournament.
Howland had taken the Bruins to the dance the year before, but despite a turnaround season led by Cedric Bozeman and freshmen Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo, the Bruins could not get past Texas Tech in the first round. One year later, it was a different story.
The Bruins returned Bozeman and had the more veteran leadership coming from center Ryan Hollins to help them, but they were propelled by sophomores Farmar, Afflalo, Josh Shipp and Lorenzo Mata. The Bruins also added a stellar recruiting class that brought a shine to several diamonds in the rough.
Point guard Darren Collison was a fast, gritty on-ball defender, shooting guard Michael Roll was a three-point specialist, forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute turned into a rebounding machine and forward Alfred Aboya was a big body that muscled his way around the paint. This was a team that was tough and stacked with talent, though more so on the defensive end.
That postseason, the Bruins entered the tournament as the 2-seed in the West Region and got a favorable draw in the first two rounds as they played in San Diego’s Cox Arena. An easy win over Belmont and then a battle against Alabama resulted in the Bruins getting to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1995. As much momentum as the Bruins were riding, they hit a wall when they ran into 5-seed Gonzaga, a team that was on a bit of a hot streak themselves.