|UCLA returns for a third straight Final Four|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 29 March 2008 15:01|
By JIM O'CONNELL
AP Basketball Writer
It isn't easy being UCLA.
The Bruins advanced to their third straight Final Four with a 76-57 victory over Xavier on Saturday, the longest stretch of semifinal success since Michigan State went three years in a row starting in 1999.
It's only the 11th time a school has made it that far three straight years in a tournament that started in 1939. Eight of those runs were exactly three straight years. Two were five in a row - Cincinnati from 1959-63 and Duke 1988-92.
The other one? That's where it's tough being UCLA.
The Bruins went to every Final Four from 1967 through 1976. Coach John Wooden returned to Westwood with the national championship trophy every one of those 10 times except 1974 and 1976.
There is some great news for UCLA about this year's Final Four in San Antonio: Florida won't be there.
The two-time defending champion Gators ended the Bruins' season the last two years. Florida won its first title over UCLA in 2006, then knocked the Bruins out in the semifinals last season. The Gators did reach a final four this season but it's the NIT in New York so UCLA doesn't have to worry about shaking hands with them again and heading home with a loss.
This UCLA team did make NCAA tournament history for at least two hours. This will be the Bruins' record 17th Final Four appearance. North Carolina, which played Louisville on Saturday night in the East Regional final, started this tournament tied with UCLA for the record.
Six of the current UCLA players will be in their third Final Four. Two others will be in their second. The Bruins' marquee player - freshman Kevin Love - will be in his first.
After the 2006 Final Four many wondered if UCLA would be able to withstand the loss of guard Jordan Farmar, the team's second-leading scorer (13.5) who led the Pac-10 in assists.
Darren Collison stepped up as a sophomore and handled the point guard duties well enough to get the Bruins back to the national semifinals. But this time it was guard Arron Afflalo who decided to leave early for the NBA and, again, few thought the Bruins could make up the for the loss of the Pac-10 player of the year who averaged 16.1 points and was one of the nation's best perimeter defenders.
Collison did it again, though, this time with Love as the star.