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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT

UC Irvine Has Some Thoughts on the Bruins' Chances Today

March 17, 2001|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There will be two areas to watch and four players to keep an eye on when UCLA plays Utah State in an NCAA tournament second-round game today.

So say coaches and players for UC Irvine, a team that faced both teams during the regular season.

Utah State defeated Ohio State on Thursday, giving the Big West Conference its first NCAA tournament victory since 1993. UCLA rallied to defeat Hofstra in its first-round game. The teams play today in Greensboro, N.C.

Irvine, the Big West regular-season champion, split two conference games with Utah State. The Anteaters put a scare into UCLA before losing, 65-60, in a December game at Pauley Pavilion.

"UCLA has obviously improved a lot," Irvine Coach Pat Douglass said. "Early in the year, I was telling everyone that Utah State could beat them. But UCLA is playing very well now."

The Irvine scouting report sees the game hinging on two spots: Point guards Earl Watson of UCLA and Bernard Rock of Utah State, and the probable matchup between UCLA forward Matt Barnes and Utah State's Shawn Daniels.

Watson and Rock are quick and lethal on offense. Both have the ability to get the ball to the right person in the right spot.

"I think Rock brings the ball up real fast and that could give UCLA problems," Irvine guard Jerry Green said. "I think Utah State has better shooters."

So it will be Utah State?

"I don't know about that," Green said. "I'm pulling for them because they are from our conference."

UCLA's biggest advantage could be with Barnes.

Daniels is an All-Big West selection, with the emphasis on big. He has soft hands, but at 6-feet-6, 260 pounds, his feet and the inability to move them quickly will make him vulnerable.

"That Barnes and Daniels matchup will be a key, because Barnes will take Daniels outside and bounce the ball on him," Douglass said.

Said Green, "That's going to be a problem for Utah State. Barnes is quicker."

So it will be UCLA?

"I know it won't be a blowout," said Green, the Big West player of the year. "I think Utah State will give UCLA a run for their money."

*

Times staff writer Paul McLeod contributed to this story.

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