UCLA and Georgia Tech have both played in national championship games in recent years, but both have come up short. On Wednesday, one team will win the EA Sports Maui Invitational championship as the fifth-ranked Bruins and 19th-ranked Yellow Jackets meet in the title game.
UCLA (3-0) is the winningest program in Division I history with 11 national titles, but lost last season’s championship game to Florida.
Georgia Tech (5-0) lost the 2004 national title game to Connecticut, but won its last game against the Bruins, 72-67 in the Wooden Classic in 2000. UCLA leads the all-time series 2-1.
The Bruins advanced to Wednesday’s championship game with a 73-68 victory Tuesday over No. 20 Kentucky in the semifinals despite a rough performance from last year’s Pac-10 Conference-leading scorer Arron Afflalo.
Afflalo entered the game shooting 56.5 percent from the field and 54.5 percent on 3s, but was just 5 for 18 from the floor, and 1-of-8 from 3-point range.
“I just have to thank my teammates. That’s all I can do right now,” Afflalo said. “They still showed their trust in me and all our guys did a great job tonight.”
Afflalo and the Bruins got a big lift from Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, who scored 18 points despite playing the final 8 1/2 minutes with four fouls. He scored six of UCLA’s last 10 points, including a dunk on the break to make it 69-65 with 25 seconds to play.
“Luc does so many of the little things,” Bruins coach Ben Howland said about the 6-foot-8 sophomore who leads the team with a 7.7 rebounding average. “Defensively he does a great job rotating and taking punishment.”
The Bruins shot 53.4 percent from the floor in their first two games, and hit 11-of-24 (45.8 percent) from 3-point range in their 88-63 victory over host Chaminade in Monday night’s quarterfinals, but struggled to find their shot Tuesday.
They made just 2-of-19 (10.5 percent) of their 3s against the Wildcats, and were 13-of-24 (54.2 percent) from the foul line.
UCLA jumped out to a 26-9 lead over the Wildcats, whom they failed to close out until late. They’ll need to do a better job protecting their lead against Georgia Tech, which overcame a 19-point deficit Tuesday in the other semifinal for a 92-85 victory over No. 12 Memphis.
The Yellow Jackets trailed 46-30 at halftime, but held the Tigers to one field goal during an 8 1/2 -minute stretch that started with 14 minutes to play. During that span, Georgia Tech had six field goals on offensive rebounds, and outrebounded Memphis 29-9 in the second half.
“This gave us confidence,” Yellow Jackets junior forward Jeremis Smith said. “We can say we beat a good team and apply what we did in the second half to the next game.”
The 6-foot-8 Smith finished with 21 points and nine rebounds, and 6-10 junior Ra’Sean Dickey added 14 and 10, respectively.
Tech finished with 52 rebounds Tuesday, and has dominated the boards this season, outrebounding its last two opponents 100-60 and grabbing 12.4 boards per game more than its opponents the first five games.
The Yellow Jackets are playing in their first Maui Invitational, while the Bruins are playing in their third. UCLA finished third in 2001 and sixth in 1995.