Saturday, May 25

UCLA guard Michael Roll ends UCLA career as a respected team leader

In his final game, guard earns career-high 27 points, earliest exit from tournament contention

Redshirt senior guard Michael Roll walks off the court at Staples Center Friday after his final game as a Bruin.

Redshirt senior guard Michael Roll walks off the court at Staples Center Friday after his final game as a Bruin. Tiffany Cheng

Last March, UCLA guard Michael Roll witnessed his teammates of four seasons ““ Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya ““ leave the court at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia for the final time of their college careers.

On Friday night at Staples Center, albeit a tournament earlier than he would have liked, it was Roll’s turn.

With less than a minute remaining in the Bruins’ season-ending 85-72 loss to Cal in the Pacific Life Pac-10 Tournament semifinals, Roll begrudgingly exited to a standing ovation from the crowd. He gave coach Ben Howland a hug and then took his seat at the end of the UCLA bench where he buried his face in his towel.

And there ended the career of Michael Roll ““ five years, four NCAA Tournament appearances, three Final Fours, two massively different seasonal outcomes from his first to his last, and one national championship game later.

“He’s made some big plays, big shots in his career, and he can leave here with his head high,” Howland said.

At the press conference following the game, Roll occupied the last seat at the media table. His face still rosy from the game, UCLA’s all-time leader in games played looked physically and emotionally drained.

When asked how it felt to end his career with a career-high 27 points, Roll replied that he wasn’t aware that he had established a new personal best.

“I mean we lost in my last game,” Roll said. “I don’t really care about the career-high. It’s just unfortunate that we lost. I’m done.”

Following the long, curving walk back to the Los Angeles Lakers’ locker room ““ the one that the Bruins were assigned to ““ Roll found his locker and sat down.

He checked his BlackBerry, the red light flashing, indicating that he had a new message. Alternating between looking at his phone and back up at the swarm of reporters circling him, Roll reflected on his final collegiate game.

After scoring 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting in the first half, what did Cal do differently that forced him to go nearly 13 minutes without taking a shot to start the second half?

“To me it didn’t feel like they played any different,” Roll said. “Just (our) team kind of went away. We could never get it going elsewhere, other people were taking shots. It was just frustrating because I had it going. I had it going late too. I just wanted to keep it going.”

After building a 10-point lead in the first half before falling apart, what was the cause of the latest example of an inability to hold a lead?

“To be honest I don’t really care,” Roll said. “It’s over with. We lost. I’m done here. It’s on everybody else to figure it out.”

Not that Roll received much help from his teammates. Fellow senior forward Nikola Dragovic continued his habit of hoisting shot after shot to no avail, en route to a meager eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, including a miserable 1-of-8 from 3-point territory.

Freshman forward Reeves Nelson, one game after providing a much-needed lift in his return to the Bruins’ lineup, scored just eight points.

Freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt completed an all-around forgettable conference tournament with six points and five turnovers.

Yet that did not deter Roll from attempting to delay the inevitable end to his time at UCLA for as long as possible.

“I really just tried to do everything I could,” Roll said.

That aspect of Roll’s game ““ an endless determination to improve and play at full-speed the entire time spent on the court ““ is not lost on his younger teammates. After serving as the unquestioned leader of the Bruins all season long, it was abundantly clear following Friday’s game that Roll had left quite an impression.

“Everybody on the team respects him 100 percent,” Honeycutt said. “Everybody trusts him 100 percent on the court. Anytime he shoots the ball we think it’s going in.”

Nelson, who declared that he would play in the Pac-10 Tournament for Roll, was especially appreciative of the season he spent with Roll.

“Obviously we’re going to miss him a lot because he just brought so many things to the table for our team, on and off the court, tangible and intangible, so it’s going to be tough to fill his shoes next year for anybody,” Nelson said.

For Roll, that sense of leadership was simply a result of what veteran players did for him.

“It’s like passing the torch,” Roll said. “People did that for me when I first got here. They showed me what I need to do, how I need to carry myself, so I’m just doing what they did and hopefully I can pass that along.”

With an overall record of 14-18 and without a berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time in six seasons, the Bruins have fallen quite a bit from where they were a few years ago, when Final Four appearances were expected. In order to get back to where they were just two years ago, Howland said the answer lies in recruiting players to represent UCLA ““ players like Roll.

“That’s one of the things I’ve appreciated about Mike is how he’s handled himself and conducted himself both on and off the floor,” Howland said. “He’s been a great representative of the program and of the great history and tradition of UCLA basketball.”

Or perhaps Honeycutt said it best:

“It’s like an extra player out there.”

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