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March 12, 2006

California at UCLA Recap

LOS ANGELES -- Jordan Farmar was not going to let anything prevent UCLA from returning to glory. Farmar scored 11 of his 19 points in the second half as the No.12 Bruins overcame a run out of halftime from California to claim their first Pac-10 Conference tournament title in 19 years, 71-52.

Already notching its first regular-season title since 1997, UCLA (27-6) completed it first sweep of the Pac-10 crowns by winning the tournament for the first time since 1987. The league did not hold a postseason event from 1991-2001.

With the win, UCLA claimed an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, its second straight following an 11-17 campaign in 2003-04. It will enter the "Big Dance" on a seven-game winning streak.

Shooting 53 percent (26-of-49), the Bruins completed their run in impressive fashion, beating each of their three tournament opponents by double digits.

"We won the Pac-10 Conference any way you want to look at it," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "We won the regular season outright. In all three of these games, it was pretty clear at the end of the game who was the best team."

Holding a 32-29 advantage at the half, UCLA saw that lead nearly disappear as Cal's Leon Powe imposed his will.

The sophomore forward scored his team's first eight points of the second half, closing the Bears within 36-35 on a lay up with 16:18 to play.

Despite the slow start following intermission, the Bruins responded with a 9-2 run that Farmar capped on a lay up with 12:26 remaining. Cedric Bozeman had a three-point play and freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute added a jumper and a follow shot to extend the lead to 54-41 with 7:15 left.

"It was not really nerve-wracking at all," Farmar said. "We just had to stay composed and do what we'd been doing. If we play defense, rebound and play together, good things happen."

Farmar then sealed the win by wrapping a pair of three-pointers around a lay up by Ryan Hollins, making it 65-46 with 3:12 remaining.

"We're playing our best basketball of the season by far right now," Howland said. "We're improving, we're getting better."

Farmar finished 5-of-8 from the arc, Bozeman scored 13 points and Arron Afflalo added nine and seven assists for UCLA, which beat California for the second time in nine days.

Ayinde Ubaka scored 18 points and Powe chipped in 18 for the Bears (20-10), who shot 40 percent (19-of-48) and committed 14 turnovers.

Coming off an emotional 91-87 double-overtime victory over Oregon on Friday, California appeared drained in this one.

"I just went out and played," said Powe, who was named the tournament's most outstanding player. "Everybody is going to be tired. Oregon was tired when they played us, and they still played hard. It's a tournament, you've got to play back-to-back-to-back."

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