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COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Ben Howland picks Duke to win West Regional … sort of

UCLA men's basketball coach makes the call based on the Blue Devils' experience, but adds that any of the four teams could win the event.

March 23, 2011|By Ben Bolch
  • Duke teammates Nolan Smith, left, and Andre Dawkins high-five one another during a team practice session at Honda Center on Wednesday.
Duke teammates Nolan Smith, left, and Andre Dawkins high-five one another… (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)

Ben Howland is never easy to pin down.

Ask the UCLA men's basketball coach a question intended to go one way and he'll take it another, if not veer onto another topic entirely.

So, in something of an upset, Howland picked a winner when asked which team would prevail in the NCAA tournament West Regional that begins Thursday at Honda Center in Anaheim.

Sort of.

"Who would be the favorite?" Howland said, repeating a question. "Duke, based on the experience of last year getting to the Final Four with the vast majority of their guys having been a part of that.

"But what Connecticut did in the Big East tournament and how well they've played in the tournament, San Diego State is really playing with a lot of confidence, as is Arizona. So anything can happen."

Indeed, Connecticut is tournament tested after winning five games in five days this month at Madison Square Garden. San Diego State remains in pinch-me mode after defeating Northern Colorado and Temple for the first NCAA tournament victories in school history, and Arizona has sophomore forward Derrick Williams ready to rescue it from any late-game quandary.

Fifth-seeded Arizona plays top-seeded Duke around 6:45 p.m. after second-seeded San Diego State plays third-seeded Connecticut at 4:15 p.m.

"I think either one of those games can be won by either one of those teams," Howland said. "Any one of those four teams would not surprise me coming out of the West."

All righty then.

Does Howland have any Final Four picks?

"I don't," he said. "I'm just sorry it's not us."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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