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UCLA first look

NCAA TOURNAMENT

March 13, 2006|Steve Springer

No. 2 UCLA (27-6) vs. No. 15 Belmont (20-10)

* About UCLA: A year ago, UCLA -- still learning Coach Ben Howland's defense-first, toughness-always system -- made its first appearance in the NCAA tournament in three seasons. It was a brief appearance. UCLA, given a No. 11 seeding, lost in the first round, 78-66, at Tucson, Ariz., to a Texas Tech team coached by Bob Knight. The Belmont Bruins were where they always have been, watching the tournament on television. Belmont had never gotten a tournament slot before this season.

* How they advanced: UCLA won its first Pacific 10 Conference championship in nine seasons and then, further hammering home the fact that it was the best team, won the conference tournament for the first time since 1987. Belmont and Lipscomb were co-champions of the Atlantic Sun Conference, both finishing 15-5. Belmont advanced by defeating Lipscomb in the conference tournament final, 74-69, in overtime.

* Common opponents: None.

* Style of play: For UCLA, it all starts with stopping the other team. The Bruin offense does not always function on all cylinders, but the defense has been stifling. UCLA held opponents to an average of 59.1 points a game. In the Pac-10 tournament, UCLA held all three of its opponents below 60 points, a tournament first. Belmont shoots 50% as a team, third-best in the nation. Belmont averages 81.8 points and has four players averaging double figures in scoring.

* X-factor: UCLA forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will be rubbing his hands if he reads this stat: Belmont is 274th in the nation in offensive rebounding, allowing opponents to grab 35.3% of their missed shots. Mbah a Moute is UCLA's leading rebounder, averaging 8.1.

* What to expect: If it's a low-scoring game, look for UCLA to be in control. If it's a high-scoring game, Belmont has a chance to pull off an upset. The last thing UCLA wants to do is to get into a run-and-gun game.

-- Steve Springer

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