So we are just hours away. Expectations/hype around our Bruins are reaching a fever point. You know we have become a main stream national story when USA Today jumps on the bandwagon. The team lead by Coach Howland are taking this all in stride, maintaining their perspective and focus going into this afternoon's game:
"Have we played any harder throughout the year than the last four games? The last four games have been incredible. It seems like the level has just been notched up a little bit. We're at our very best right now."
UCLA, which is on a seven-game winning streak, won the Pacific-10 Conference regular-season title and breezed to the conference tournament title.
But history indicates there is some danger, if slight, that UCLA could become an upset victim. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the No. 15 seed has defeated the No. 2 seed four times (in 84 such matchups), and Howland's 1998 Northern Arizona team nearly added to the list. The Lumberjacks lost 65-62 to Cincinnati, falling on D'Juan Baker's 3-pointer with 3.6 seconds remaining.
"We should have won that game. We had that game," Howland deliberately said. "So I understand very clearly that this game is a game we can lose if we don't play very well. It's going to happen again at some point here. We want to make sure we understand it can happen."
* ON DEFENSE -- This is core of UCLA's strength. With Afflalo assigned to shadow the other team's top backcourt scorer and a solid man-to-man front, UCLA was able to hold the opposition to 59.1 points a game. Belmont likes to mix it up, offering several zone formations and an occasional press, but opponents were still able to average 75.9 points against Belmont. Edge: UCLA.
* COACHING -- UCLA's Ben Howland has been here before. The Pacific 10 Conference coach of the year, Howland will be making his fifth appearance in the NCAA tournament with his third team. He previously led Northern Arizona and Pittsburgh to the tournament, before adding a tournament bid for UCLA last season. Rick Byrd, in his 19th season as Belmont's coach, is leading the school into the NCAA tournament for the first time in this, Belmont's ninth season as a full Division I team. Edge: UCLA.
Let's get this thing started. Is it 2:00 pm yet? Let's go. GO (UCLA) BRUINS.