UCLA’s swoon results in a No. 2 seed in West

first_imgTwenty-six years later, that same player called Weber State athletic director Jerry Graybeal and recommended Randy Rahe for the Wildcats’ vacant men’s basketball coaching position. That player, now in his fourth season as UCLA’s coach, is Ben Howland, who remains very much in touch with his Weber State roots. So when the NCAA Tournament selection committee matched No. 2 seed UCLA and No. 15 Weber State in first round of the West regional Thursday in Sacramento (tipoff is tentatively scheduled for 4:25 p.m.), Howland admitted seeing the irony of the matchup, even if he didn’t see any humor in it. “I’m happy for (Rahe), and in some way, doing the right thing may end up biting me from behind here,” said Howland, who graduated from the Ogden, Utah, school in 1979. “I hope not. I’ve known Randy for probably 15 years. He’s very good.” The Bruins (26-5) lost the top seed in the West with its first-round loss to California in the Pacific-10 Conference Tournament. Instead, Kansas is the West’s top seed. But UCLA faces several potentially juicy meetings along the road to Atlanta, site of the Final Four. UCLA opens against Howland’s alma mater, and if it wins would play the winner of No. 7 seed Indiana vs. No. 10 seed Gonzaga. Not only did Howland begin his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Gonzaga, but the Bruins rallied from 17points down to beat the Bulldogs in the regional semifinals last March. And there is also a possible Sweet 16 meeting in San Jose with Howland’s other favorite team, No. 3 seed Pittsburgh, where he coached before taking over at UCLA. “I’m not surprised by it. I don’t chuckle, but I’m not surprised by it,” Howland said. “CBS is paying a lot of money to telecast the NCAA Tournament, about $700 to $800 million a year over the lifetime of the deal … so, of course, if good TV is available, it’s going to be more commanding to viewership.” More pressing than the connect-the-dots lineage of Howland’s basketball career is the mindset of his Bruins, whose confidence remains shaken after dropping their past two games to non-NCAA Tournament participants Washington and Cal. “I would say 90 percent (is the confidence level),” Bruins sophomore Alfred Aboya said. “We need just a couple more days to boost it to 100 percent.” Aboya said UCLA’s confidence was “really low” after the Pac-10 tournament loss, and Howland began to rebuild it during Saturday’s practice. Arron Afflalo, UCLA’s All-American guard, said Howland altered his practice setup of starters against reserves. Afflalo and point guard Darren Collison were on one side, and power forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and wing Josh Shipp on the other. Getting a win in the tournament will build confidence, but the Bruins face a Weber State team that has improved dramatically from the beginning of the season and a program known for pulling first-round upsets. The Wildcats (20-11), who won the Big Sky Tournament title with 10 new players, are well-versed in NCAA upset lore. As a 14th seed, they defeated North Carolina in 1999 and Michigan State in 1995. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!center_img LOS ANGELES – Back in the late 1970s, when Kim Zahnow was a Weber State cheerleader, a basketball player fancied her, and eventually the two were married. Online Extra: College Basketball Brackets | Printable Brackets last_img read more