LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP)—Arron Afflalo was able to smile after one of the worst shooting performances of his career.
“I just have to thank my teammates. That’s all I can do right now,” Afflalo said after going 5-for-18 from the field in No. 5 UCLA’s 73-68 victory over No. 20 Kentucky on Tuesday night in the semifinals of the EA Sports Maui Invitational. “They still showed their trust in me and all our guys did a great job tonight and Luc came up with some magnificent rebounds.”
Luc Richard Mbah A Moute scored 18 points despite playing the final 8 1/2 minutes with four fouls. He scored six of UCLA’s last 10 points, ignoring the foul trouble to go inside for the first four points and then throwing down a dunk on the break to make it 69-65 with 25 seconds to play.
“Luc was a tough matchup for them,” Bruins coach Ben Howland said.
And now the Bruins (3-0) will play No. 19 Georgia Tech in the championship game Wednesday night. The Yellow Jackets overcame a 16-point halftime deficit in a 92-85 victory over No. 12 Memphis.
“Luc does so many of the little things,” Howland said about the 6-foot-8 sophomore who leads the team in rebounding. “Defensively he does a great job rotating and taking punishment, and Randolph Morris punishes you.”
The 6-11 Morris had 11 points for the Wildcats (3-1), who got to 71-68 on his layup with 2 seconds to go, but Afflalo made two free throws with .6 seconds left for the final margin.
The final 10 minutes were the kind of game one would expect from the two most successful programs in college basketball history—UCLA holds a record 11 NCAA championships, four ahead of runner-up Kentucky.
“UCLA really executed down the stretch. They made plays, made shots when they had to,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “A couple of stops on the defensive end and we would have had a chance to win the game.”
Afflalo finished with 14 points, while Lorenzo Mata added 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Joe Crawford had 16 points for the Wildcats, and freshman guard Derrick Jasper had 12 points and nine rebounds.
UCLA jumped out to a 26-9 lead, but the Wildcats were able to get it down to 38-30 at halftime.
The Wildcats were finally able to tie the game for the first time at 48 on a 3 by Crawford with 11:46 to play, and their first lead came 1:24 later on two free throws by Jasper.
There were three lead changes and four ties the rest of the way and neither team managed more than a five-point lead until Afflalo’s dunk with 8 seconds left made it 71-65.
Mbah A Moute scored down low to make it 67-62 with 2:20 left and Crawford answered with a three-point play 18 seconds later.
After a Kentucky turnover and a UCLA miss, Smith called two timeouts in a 13-second span, but Bruins point guard Darren Collison foiled any strategy by stealing the ball from Ramel Bradley and then found Mbah A Moute on the break for the game-clinching dunk.
“I just turned it over,” a somber Bradley said.
Collison said he saw Bradley begin to fumble the ball and then went for the steal.
“I capitalized on it as soon as I saw him fumble it,” he said.
Afflalo, one of two returning starters from last season’s national runner-up, entered the game shooting 56 percent from the field and 55 percent on 3s. In his first two seasons at UCLA he shot 46 percent overall and 37 percent from beyond the arc.
“My adrenaline was up a little bit but I never lost confidence. Maybe I was a little fatigued,” Afflalo said. “I don’t expect to ever shoot 1-for-8 on 3s. It was one of those nights. Hopefully I can stop that in the championship game.”