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Let's Go ...

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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:

"We've been preparing for this moment (today) all year long," third-year UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "We've been building for this by improving, getting better. We're getting better with our focus.

"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."
It helps to have a Coach like Howland who is there to constantly remind the kids how they should not get carried away from all this (sudden) national attention and hype. We have been talking about Belmont here the whole week and here is one last look at key matchups for today courtesy of LA Times:
*  ON OFFENSE -- Belmont is at its best when the ball is in its hands, averaging 81.8 points, and hitting 50% of its shots from the floor, including 38.2% from three-point range. The offensive load for UCLA is carried by guards Afflalo and Farmer with big assists from Roll and Collison. Up front, there is not a lot of offensive firepower for UCLA. Edge: Belmont.

*  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.
Elsewhere, OC Register has this preview and Plashcke (aka John Tesh of LA Times) has another fluff piece - that doesn't really have to do anything with the game. Also Bruin Basketball Report have more on the games. And, JD over at BruinHoopScoop captures my sentiment on the all hype and expectations around our Bruins:
The bottom line is that I want to see our team play well. I want to see activity on defense and smart play on offense. If we do that, the Ws most likely will come, just like they have in our last seven games. This should be especially true in the early rounds, where indeed we are considerably better on paper than our opponents, but if at some point we play well and happen to lose, so be it. There are plenty of good teams in the field, even within our region. With the one-and-done format, it is not reasonable to expect ANY team to make the Final 4. John Wooden has said some of his most successful teams did not win championships, and I believe him. So while I'll be rooting like crazy for a deep run and perhaps even Banner #12, whatever happens during the next three weeks is not going to make me lose sight of how this team has come together to play tough, unselfish, intelligent basketball. We have improved by leaps and bounds over the course of the season, and we have refused to let matters beyond our control (i.e., injuries) to affect our attitudes. This has been the most fun I've had in nine years as a UCLA hoops fan, and it can only get better as we head into the tourney.
Fun is the operative word. Let's have more of this and not worry about anything else.

Let's get this thing started. Is it 2:00 pm yet? Let's go. GO (UCLA) BRUINS.