Nov. 21, 2007
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Michigan State sent one player after another at Kevin Love, pushing him, banging him, knocking him to the floor.
Each time Love fought back, forcing his way past the Spartans to grab rebounds, sticking shots back with players draped on him, even breaking a smile a couple times as he ran back.
You guessed it, Love loved it.
Love had 21 points and 11 rebounds to help UCLA stay close, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute finished it off on a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left, helping second-ranked UCLA rebound from a miserable first half to beat No. 10 Michigan State 68-63 on Tuesday night in the championship game of the CBE Classic.
"That's an everyday thing for me," said Love, who had eight offensive rebounds and scored nine of his points from the free-throw line. "If we're going to be a great team, we're all going to have bang down low."
UCLA (5-0) didn't look much like a great team in the first half, forcing up shots inside, missing open ones on the outside, trailing by as much 13.
The Bruins got back in it behind the shooting of Josh Shipp and Russell Westbrook.
Shipp had 14 of his 18 points in the second half to trim the deficit to two, then Westbrook scored eight straight points, tying the game at 58-all on a steal and breakaway dunk with 4 minutes left.
Michigan State's Drew Neitzel hit a 3-point from the top of the key to put the Spartans up 63-58, but Love answered with a three-point play to make it 63-61 with just under 2 minutes left.
That set the stage for Mbah a Moute, who tied it on a rebound slam 15 seconds later, then put the Bruins up 66-63 with a 3-pointer from the corner.
"I knew it was going in," he said.
Neitzel, weak because of flu-like symptoms, had a final chance, but his long 3-pointer with 11 seconds left missed everything. Shipp sealed it with two free throws at the other end, capping a hard-fought win for the Bruins.
"I'm really proud of our toughness mentally," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "The one thing about our team is they never give up. They never give up, ever and that's a sign of mentally-tough kids."
Same could be said for Neitzel.
Michigan State's gritty preseason All-American missed the team's morning meetings and practice, didn't eat all day and wasn't sure if he'd be able to play even minutes before the game.
Neitzel started on the bench and entered 5 1/2 minutes in, hitting a 3-pointer three minutes later, but wasn't much of a factor other than his late 3-pointer. He finished with a quiet 13 points, finishing 4-of-11 from the field and looking exhausted after the game.
"I didn't feel good all day," Neitzel said. "My adrenaline got going a little and I felt pretty good before the game, but I still had some bad body aches. I just didn't have a lot of energy, but I'm not going to use that as an excuse."
The rest of the Spartans seemed to have plenty of juice, racing out to an early lead, seemingly on their way to a rout.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo was concerned about switching gears so quickly after Monday's semifinals, facing the speed and athleticism of Missouri one night, UCLA's bruising front line the next.
The Spartans didn't have any trouble making the adjustment. If anything, they seemed to enjoy the physical play inside and the room it created on the perimeter, jumping out to a 36-25 by halftime.
Michigan State did it with a surprisingly physical defense, banging the Bruins into missing their first nine shots and holding them to 7-of-29 from the field in the first half.
They just couldn't keep it up, ending up with a frustrating loss instead of a big win.
"We did not deserve to win the way we played in the second half," Izzo said. "We were out of synch all night. I still don't know how we scored 36 points in the first half."
While the bruising style knocked the rest of the Bruins off-kilter early, Love thrived on it.
Touted for his exceptional passing and deft shooting touch for a big man, the 6-foot-10 freshman showed off his rough side against Michigan State, banging Idong Ibok and Raymar Morgan for post position, and bulling past the Spartans for rebounds.
Love missed his first four shots, all inside as he was banged around, and took a shot to the side of the head while chasing a loose ball early on, but never stopped fighting. He had 11 points and eight rebounds by halftime, and spent the second accumulating fouls on Michigan State's big men, fouling Ibok and Drew Naymick out.
"I knew I was drawing fouls," Love said. "My teammates were just getting me in good position to score. I missed a few easy chip shots in the first half, but I got some back in the second. I was just trying to draw fouls so we can get to the line."