PHOENIX — After reaching the Final Four for the third straight time, UCLA coach Ben Howland called these Bruins “by far the best” of the three.
The other two didn’t have freshman Kevin Love, who had 19 points and 10 rebounds as the top-seeded Bruins blitzed Xavier 76-57 Saturday to earn their record 18th overall trip to the Final Four.
Love was picked as the most outstanding player of the West Regional.
“Obviously, it’s unbelievable,” Howland said after taking the last few snips of the net. “That’s really a credit to how good the players are and how well we performed under pressure the last three years.”
It’s the Bruins’ longest string of Final Four appearances since they closed the John Wooden era with nine straight trips and added a 10th consecutive trip in 1976 under his successor, Gene Bartow.
The Bruins (35-3) lost in the Final Four the last two years. But they go to San Antonio with Love, who has given them a formidable inside presence and has raised his game in this tournament.
“We’re getting spoiled with Kevin,” Howland said.
Love made 7-of-11 shots from the floor, including 2-of-4 from beyond the arc. Half of his rebounds came at the offensive end and he added four assists for good measure.
“He looks like he’s 25 years old when he’s playing,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said of Love, who is 19.
The Musketeers (30-7) had no answer for Love on a day they shot 36.2 percent from the floor — a credit to UCLA’s relentless man-to-man defense.
North Carolina 83, Louisville 73
CHARLOTTE, N.C.— Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina simply would not be denied.
Hansbrough had 28 points and 13 rebounds as the Tar Heels pulled away from Louisville in the East Regional championship and claimed a Final Four berth that they let slip away last season.
Playing in front of a partisan home-state crowd, they reached the national semifinals for the first time since winning the championship in 2005.
The Tar Heels (36-2) advanced to play the Kansas-Davidson winner next Saturday at San Antonio.
Ty Lawson added 11 points — including a key 3-pointer with about 5 minutes left — for North Carolina. The Tar Heels blew a 12-point halftime lead, then broke away from a tie at 59 to earn their 17th trip to the Final Four.
Jerry Smith scored 17 points to lead third-seeded Louisville (27-9).