|UCLA seeking its 4th straight berth in Final Four|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 30 October 2008 14:02|
The Bruins became just the fourth school to reach the Final Four in three straight years last spring, but the NCAA's all-time leader with 11 men's basketball championships has gone without a title since 1995.
``That's the goal at UCLA, to win the national championship,'' sixth-year Bruins coach Ben Howland said Tuesday at Pac-10 Media Day. ``It's very difficult to get (to the Final Four), it's a very hard thing to do. We're optimistic we're going to have a good team, providing we stay healthy.''
Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute all left school early for the NBA draft. Darren Collison was going to join them, but decided to return for his senior year.
``I'm happy I stayed, there are no regrets,'' he said. ``It's going to be a fun deal. The hunger is definitely there. It's hard to do (reaching the Final Four), we're starving to do it. We're hungry.''
s, and were eliminated in the semis again last spring by Memphis.
``UCLA is the measuring stick right now,'' Southern California coach Tim Floyd said. ``They have a system that is difficult to play against. Outstanding guard play, the best perimeter players three straight years in the league, and I don't see that changing this year.
``It is tremendous for them and our league. I think it's great when UCLA is great. If you can beat them, it really helps you and the confidence you get going into the NCAA tournament. I think they'll be great again this year.''
The Bruins are overwhelming favorites to win a fourth straight Pac-10 title, receiving all but one of 38 first-place votes in this year's media poll. They wound up with 379 points to 325 for second-place Arizona State, which got the remaining first-place vote.
USC finished third with 292 points, followed by Arizona with 241 and Washington at fifth with 217.
``I thought it would be a little more spread out,'' Howland said of the first-place votes. ``We did lose a lot, we lost four very good players. But I think it speaks to the fact that there's a lot of respect for our returning players.''
The Bruins return only two starters - seniors Collison and Josh Shipp - but they've got several experienced players on the roster, including probable starters Alfred Aboya, a senior, and James Keefe, a junior.
f the nation's best.
Howland said Jrue Holiday will start, with fellow freshmen Drew Gordon, Malcolm Lee, J'mison Morgan and Jerime Anderson coming off the bench along with juniors Michael Roll and Nikola Dragovic.
``Always subject to change. That's how it is in my mind,'' Howland said. ``We have more depth at the guard position than we've ever had since I've been here. We're probably thinner up front in terms of experience.''
ASU has a 1-2 punch in sophomore James Harden and senior Jeff Pendergraph. Their other three starters return as well.
``High expectations always beats the alternative,'' second-year ASU coach Herb Sendek said. ``I think our guys are well-rounded and feel good about themselves. They know they have work to do. Our league is competitive and there are a number of good teams. I expect our league again to be among the very top couple in the country.''
Sendek was the only first-year coach in the Pac-10 last year. There are four this year, including Arizona's Russ Pennell, named last Friday to succeed longtime Wildcats coach Lute Olson on an interim basis, and Oregon State's Craig Robinson, whose brother-in-law is Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Hill and Nic Wise, just to name three. The thing about Arizona, there are so many people there that care about this program and the passion. What I hope we can do is keep that passion going.''
The Wildcats have played in each of the last 24 NCAA tournaments.
Robinson, who coached at Brown the past two years, inherits a team that went 6-25 last season, including 0-18 in the Pac-10.
``It's going to be a big task at Oregon State. It was tough last year and we're trying to get things turned around,'' Robinson said. ``Our first job is to change the culture. What we're trying to do is get better every day. To quote my brother-in-law, I like being the underdog.''
Robinson will travel to Chicago next Tuesday to join his family on election night.
``I never lobby these guys, never,'' he said regarding his players. ``I just tell them how important it is to vote.''