The UCLA women's basketball team will be back in Pauley Pavilion tonight but will be a decided underdog in its NCAA West Regional semifinal game against Georgia.
The Bruins should recognize the feeling.
When UCLA began play in the Western Collegiate Athletic Assn. with three losses, few expected the Bruins to challenge for an NCAA tournament berth. UCLA then won 10 of its last 11 WCAA games, tied USC for second place and was one of four conference teams invited to the playoffs.
UCLA drew a road game against Washington in the first round. The Huskies had a 26-1 record.
The Bruins overcame a nine-point, first-half deficit in Seattle, however, and went on to upset Washington, 78-62.
Bruin Coach Billie Moore is getting used to being overlooked, but she doesn't seem to mind.
"What is most enjoyable to me is that no one expected us to be here," she said. "We've earned our way here, and the players have earned respect on the court."
The Bruins (20-9) have surprised their share of opponents, but they'll face their stiffest challenge tonight when they meet the Bulldogs at 6. Third-ranked Cal State Long Beach will play USC at 8:30 in the second game.
The winners will meet Saturday at 3 p.m., with the survivor earning a trip to Austin, Tex. for the Final Four Mar. 29.
Moore is taking a realistic approach to tonight's game.
"To be very honest with you, if both teams play well, Georgia will win," she said.
She's probably right.
Georgia (26-4) has plenty of talent. The Bulldogs have three-time All-American forward Janet Harris, and guard Teresa Edwards, a member of last summer's gold-medal winning Olympic team. Harris is averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds a game, and Edwards has added 14 points a game.
Georgia also fine center Katrina McClain, who scored 24 points in the Bulldogs' 91-74 victory over Tennessee Tech in the first round, and forward Lisa O'Connor fills out a strong front line. O'Connor held USC's Cheryl Miller to a career-low 12 points in Georgia's 77-56 win over the Trojans in January.
But there are a few things working against the Bulldogs. They had to travel across three time zones Tuesday night, and they'll be playing in hostile, unfamiliar surroundings.
"This is California's world. We're just passing through," Georgia Coach Andy Landers said. "We're the only people here not playing at home, and we're at a disadvantage in that respect."
Moore would question that claim.
"Even though we're at home, Georgia is the favorite," she said.
The USC-Long Beach game is much tougher to call. The Trojans (21-8) and 49ers (27-2) split their regular-season series, with USC winning the first game, 70-65, and Long Beach winning the second, 64-61.
With the exception of the final four minutes of the second game, in which Long Beach erased a seven-point deficit to pull out the victory, the 49ers have not played well against the Trojans.
"They outplayed us in the first game, and we were too emotional, too keyed up in the second one," Long Beach Coach Joan Bonvicini said. "We finally started relaxing and playing better in the last few minutes. We'll try to temper our emotions tonight, but we'll be ready to play."