March 15, 2007
Afflalo's performance in the first round of the NCAA tournament was among his best - yet Howland knows the Bruins will need something even better from their top scorer in the next few days and weeks if they hope to duplicate last season's run to the title game.
Shaking off a terrible performance in last week's Pac-10 tournament, Afflalo had 22 points and eight rebounds to lead the second-seeded Bruins to a 70-42 victory over Weber State on Thursday night in the West Regional.
"I think he's had one poor game that I can remember in the last three years," Howland said after Afflalo hit three 3-pointers and keyed a lengthy surge against the 15th-seeded Wildcats.
"Thank goodness he had it in our last game instead of today. He's a great competitor, and he'll play even better on Saturday."
After spending six weeks of this season ranked No. 1, UCLA lost its previous two games before traveling to Arco Arena - including a humiliating loss to mediocre California in the conference tournament, costing it a likely No. 1 seed.
Afflalo, the conference player of the year, was particularly stung by the last loss because of the way he played: scoring a season-low three points on 1-of-7 shooting, and later hanging his head in the locker room.
But Afflalo was back on his game as soon as he stepped on the floor where he led his Compton high school to a state title. He scored 15 points in the first half as UCLA rolled to an 18-point halftime lead on the overmatched Wildcats (20-12) of the Big Sky Conference.
"I had put that game behind me (already)," Afflalo said of the Bruins' loss to Cal. "We have been struggling a little bit to get off to good starts in the past few games, so it was important within our team to play intense and very competitive."
Darren Collison had 14 points and eight assists while playing on a sprained ankle, and Josh Shipp added 12 for Howland's Bruins (27-5), who reached last season's national championship game before Florida ended hopes of their 12th NCAA title.
One year after reaching the NCAA title game, UCLA again is a No. 2 seed out west - and once again, the Bruins won't have to leave California to reach the Final Four.
They'll face the winner of Indiana's game against Gonzaga - UCLA's foe in the West Regional final last year - on Saturday.
Dezmon Harris led Weber State with 10 points, but top big man David Patten managed just nine points on 1-of-6 shooting. The Wildcats kept it close until Juan Pablo Silveira hit a 3-pointer with 7:57 left in the first half, trimming UCLA's lead to 15-14.
The Bruins then scored 12 straight points and finished the half on a 22-5 run, holding Weber State without a field goal for the rest of the half. Afflalo hit two 3-pointers on consecutive possessions before Michael Roll hit him under the basket for a layup 1 second before halftime.
"I don't think we came out with the right mind-set," said Harris, who had the Wildcats' only field goal in a 14-minute stretch spanning halftime. "I tried to get them to keep their heads up, but it looked like they just fell off. UCLA is a pretty good team, but we beat ourselves."
Though Weber State has a history of NCAA upsets, Howland wouldn't allow his alma mater to even get a taste of another. Howland played for the Wildcats in two NCAA tournaments back when he sported short-shorts and a full head of hair.
Collison sprained his ankle during practice this week, but didn't seem affected by his injury - particularly while stripping Weber State's point guards to set up easy baskets on a handful of occasions.
Weber State won the Big Sky tournament to earn its first NCAA tournament berth since 2003 despite having 10 new players on first-year coach Randy Rahe's roster. The purple-clad Wildcats of Ogden, Utah, have two notable first-round wins in their recent history, knocking off Michigan State in 1995 and stunning North Carolina in 1999.
Rahe hoped to keep the score in the 50s to give his Wildcats a chance - but UCLA had 37 points by halftime and surpassed 50 in the opening minutes of the second half.
"It's easy to see why this team made the national championship game," Rahe said. "I think they're built for tournament success. ... But I'm proud of our guys. To accomplish what they accomplished with what we started with back in August, it's a tremendous achievement."