The question is asked at every news conference. How does the tradition of UCLA and the Final Four affect the 2006 version's chances in the Final Four? Coaches and players are notorious for downplaying external factors affect upcoming games, but with this particular question there is little doubt. No player or coach on the current squad was a part of any of the past March successes for the Bruins. Fans expectations, however, are not tempered.
Winners of 11 National Championships, the most in NCAA history, UCLA last scaled the postseason mountain in 1995. That was also the last time the Bruins made the Final Four, but their 15th appearance in that setting. They have an .833 winning percentage in Final Four play (25-5), the best record of any program in the NCAA.
Yet, as head coach Ben Howland and his team prepares for this weekend's showcase, those numbers provide very little benefit, if any.
This is Howland's first Final Four appearance in his coaching career and only the second time any member of the Bruin basketball team has competed in an NCAA Tournament.
While the experience factor will not come into play, though, one aspect of UCLA's history in the Final Four may give the Bruins a boost. As sophomore point guard Jordan Farmar pointed out in Friday's press conference, being around the UCLA tradition can be motivating.
"Walking into Pauley Pavilion every day for practice, you see those 11 banners up there hanging," Farmar said. "We won the Pac-10 championship this year, we made it to the Sweet-16, the Elite 8, the Final Four. None of that is going to be recognized in terms of banners in Pauley Pavilion. It helps us reach for the stars and keep our goals high and work hard to try to accomplish those."
"What's special about that is that nowhere else in the country does anyone have the tradition and history that UCLA has in college basketball," added Howland. "It really is a motivator 'cause not only are our players representing our team, they're representing the program and they're representing all the former players that played here."
UCLA's opponent Saturday night (5:47 PST tip-off), LSU, has some NCAA Tournament history of their own and the advancement of 11th-seeded George Mason to the Final Four has reminded college basketball fans of LSU's prior NCAA Tournament accomplishments. The 1986 version of the Tigers was the only other team seeded 11 to make it to an NCAA Tournament Final Four.
LSU's Final Four history may have some good omens for the Bruins, however. The Tigers have advanced to the Final Four three times (1953, 81 and 86), going 0-3 in those appearances. Each team they lost to in the semifinals, however, went on to win the National Championship game.
Heading into the game, UCLA holds the longest current winning streak in the NCAA's at 11 games. The Tigers, however, are as hot as any team in the tournament and features four starters who average double figures in points and two who average better than nine rebounds per game.
Point guard Darrel Mitchell paces the Tigers' backcourt, averaging 17 points and 4.5 assists per game. He is also a threat from three-point territory, as Texas A&M found out in the second round when he hit the game winning triple with 3.9 seconds left on the clock. 6-9 center Glen Davis gets all publicity among LSU's frontcourt, but forwards Tyrus Thomas (6-9, 215) and Tasmin Mitchell (6-7, 230) are tremendous players in their own right. Thomas was named MVP of the Atlanta region and has recorded 14 double-doubles on the season while Mitchell averages 11.4 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.
The key match up in the game will be UCLA's Arron Afflalo against LSU defensive specialist Garrett Temple. The 6-5, 176-pound Temple gained instant celebrity when he put the handcuffs on National Player of the Year J.J. Redick of Duke in the Regional semifinals. Afflalo, one of the offensive keys for UCLA, will have to watch Temple's outside shot, but may be able to get a break on the defensive end of the floor against a player who averages just 5.2 points per game.
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