1st Round Matchup Weber St at UCLA

Last year, UCLA fell one game shy of winning its 12th national championship. This year, it fell just short of earning a top seed in the NCAA tournament.

On Thursday, the Bruins begin their quest to get back to the title game with a first-round matchup against 15th-seeded Weber State at Sacramento, Calif.

Oddsmakers have made UCLA -19.5 point spread favorites (College Basketball Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 128.5 total points (View College Basketball Sports Books). Our public betting information shows that 57% of bets for this game have been placed on Weber St +19.5 (View College Basketball Bet Percentages).

For most of this season, UCLA (26-5) appeared headed for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Bruins were ranked No. 1 in the nation for six straight weeks at one point and also won more games against ranked opponents than any other school, going 9-1 versus teams in the Top 25.

However, UCLA stumbled at the end, suffering its only consecutive losses of the season in its last two games. After scoring a season-low 51 points in their regular-season finale at Washington on March 3, the Bruins got ousted in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament with a 76-69 defeat in overtime to California last Thursday.

As a result, UCLA enters the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed for the second straight year. On the positive side for the Bruins, they will not have to leave California unless they reach the Final Four in Atlanta because the first two rounds are in Sacramento and the West Regional is in San Jose.

"It would've been nice to be a No. 1, but in a sense, it's really irrelevant," said junior guard Arron Afflalo, who had a season-low three points in last Thursday's loss. "We're still going to our same region, where we'll have our support system."

Being seeded second worked out fine last season for UCLA, which advanced to its first Final Four since the 1994-95 team won the school's 11th national championship. The Bruins lost 73-57 to Florida in the 2006 title game.

Afflalo, one of only two upperclassmen starting for UCLA this season along with junior center Lorenzo Mata, saw his streak of 29 consecutive games scoring in double figures end in the loss to the Golden Bears. The junior guard leads the Bruins with 16.7 points per game, and won Pac-10 player of the year honors.

Despite his team's success in last year's tournament, Afflalo struggled as he averaged 11.5 points and shot just 33.9 percent from the field in six contests.

UCLA faces a challenging road back to the Final Four with teams such as Pittsburgh, Duke and Gonzaga in its half of the West bracket, but it first faces a school Bruins coach Ben Howland knows well.

"Our focus is solely on Weber State University, formerly Weber State College," Howland said. "When I went to school there, it was a college."

Howland played for Weber State (20-11) from 1978-80, helping lead the Wildcats to consecutive Big Sky conference championships and NCAA tournament appearances.

This is the 14th NCAA tournament for Weber State, which last appeared in 2003, when it was seeded 12th and lost in the first round to Wisconsin.

Reaching this year's tournament caps a remarkable turnaround for the Wildcats, who went just 10-17 in 2005-06 to finish last in the Big Sky. The only returning starter from that club is senior forward David Patten - a native of Placentia, Calif., near Los Angeles - who was named conference player of the year after averaging 14.4 points while shooting 54.1 percent from the floor this season.

Patten had a team-high 22 points as Weber State beat Northern Arizona 88-80 in the Big Sky championship game on March 7.

"You imagine it, sure," Patten said of the Wildcats' turnaround. "I don't know if we thought it was doable, but it was a goal."

The winner of this contest faces either seventh-seeded Indiana or No. 10 seed Gonzaga in the second round Saturday.

by: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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