|Streaking UCLA opens NCAA tourney as No. 1 seed in West Region|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 16 March 2008 15:02|
They'll open Thursday against 16th-seeded Mississippi Valley State in Anaheim, a 46-mile trip by bus from their Westwood campus.
``It's great that we're close to home,'' Pac-10 player and freshman of the year Kevin Love said. ``This is my first time around, so I'm excited for it.''
Third-ranked UCLA (31-3) earned the school's first No. 1 seed since 1995, when the Bruins won their 11th national championship.
``We don't want to be the first team in the tournament to be the No. 1 seed that loses to a No. 16,'' coach Ben Howland said. ``That's going to happen someday. I just hope it's not us on Thursday.''
The Bruins advanced to the Final Four the last two years as a No. 2 seed and benefited from playing their first four games in California. That's not possible this year since the West regional is in Phoenix, although it's another short trip away.
This year, the Bruins go into the tournament on a 10-game winning streak, while a year ago they had lost two in a row.
They also have a couple of injuries.
Love received treatment on his balky back Sunday, a day after he grimaced his way through the first half against Stanford.
``If I stand too long on it, it kind of tightens up on me a little bit,'' he said. ``By the time we play, I think I'll be fine.''
Forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was in a walking boot Sunday, having ditched the crutches he'd been using on his sprained left ankle. He got hurt in the Pac-10 tourney Friday.
``It feels good as of right now,'' he said. ``I can't say if I'll be able to play Thursday, but I'm sure I'll play sometime this week.''
The Bruins wanted to win their third consecutive regular-season Pac-10 championship and the league tournament title. They did both at the expense of No. 11 Stanford, including a 67-64 loss in the title game Saturday.
So hearing their name called as a No. 1 seed was expected.
``You still got to go out there and perform,'' point guard Darren Collison said.
Howland added: ``These guys have worked very hard all season long to get to be a No. 1 seed. Nothing is guaranteed. Anybody can beat anybody. We continue to talk about that.''
Mississippi Valley State (17-15) squeaked into the NCAAs for the first time since 1996, defeating Jackson State by one point to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament.
``It's a little interesting what they can bring to the table,'' Collison said. ``They have to be good because they did make it to the tournament. We've just got to stay on our toes, we can't look ahead. This is going to be a tough matchup.''
Asked what he knew about the Delta Devils, Collison said, ``I know Jerry Rice went there.''
Backcourt mate Russell Westbrook also knew the NFL's career receiving leader attended the 3,767-student school in Itta Bena, Miss.
M 65-62 in the John R. Wooden Classic in Anaheim.
``They're saying we probably have the easiest bracket, which I disagree,'' Collison said. ``You've got to still go out there and win.''
Down the road, third-seeded Connecticut (24-8) could await in the regional semifinals, followed by No. 2 Duke (27-5) for a chance to return to the Final Four.
``I called it a couple days ago, I go, `If we're a No. 1 seed, they're going to put Duke on our side,''' Love said. ``They want to make matchups, they want to make big-time games for TV. We're not looking too far ahead, but I do see it down the road. That would be a fun game to play in.''
The Bruins have survived five close calls in their last six games, winning four of them by a combined nine points and needing overtime against Stanford to clinch the Pac-10 regular-season title.
``It adds to the confidence,'' Collison said. ``You look at tournament play, there's not too many games where teams blow each other out. There's always close games.''