Game Preview

March 13, 2001

GAME: No. 13 Hofstra (26-4) vs. No. 4 UCLA (21-8).
REGIONAL: East, first round.
TIME: Thursday, 2:55 p.m. EST.
SITE: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C.

Back in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year, an experienced Hofstra team hopes for a better showing as it plays NCAA tournament powerhouse UCLA in the first round of the East Regional at the Greensboro Coliseum.

The 13th-seeded Pride (26-4) won the America East Conference tournament for the second consecutive year. Last year's team was seeded 14th and suffered an 86-66 loss to Oklahoma State in the first round.

Seven players who were on the team for that loss returned to the Pride for their senior seasons, and they responded by winning the America East regular-season title. Hofstra also carries the longest active winning streak in the country at 18 games.

"Last year Coach (Jay) Wright and Speedy (guard Craig Claxton) willed us to win," Pride point guard Jason Hernandez said. "This year, with seven seniors, we felt composed and had a great attitude that we felt no matter what happened to us we could win the game."

Forward Norman Richardson replaced Claxton as the team's go-to player, and he responded with 20 points in Hofstra's 68-54 victory over Delaware in the tournament title game Saturday. Roberto Gittens, who was named the tournament's most valuable player, added 17 points.

Wright, who has gone 50-11 in the last two seasons as Hofstra's coach, is expected to be entertaining offers for mid-major coaching vacancies when the Pride's season ends.

UCLA (21-8), seeded fourth, is a difficult team to figure out. The Bruins started the season 4-4 and suffered an embarrassing home loss to Cal State-Northridge in that span. UCLA also absorbed a 29-point defeat at California before winning at then-No. 1 Stanford - which started an eight-game winning streak.

The Bruins then closed their season with two losses in their final three games, including a 96-94 setback at Washington in the season finale Saturday. But point guard Earl Watson, who is the only player in school history to start every game in a four-year career, is happy about being shipped out of California.

"We play our best games away from California," said Watson, citing victories at Purdue and DePaul and over Kentucky at Madison Square Garden. "This team really, really, really comes together when we're far away. We're all we have on the road. There's no one else there for us."

Coach Steve Lavin, who has led the Bruins to the NCAA tournament all five years since replacing Jim Harrick, is still looking for his first Final Four appearance. He feels his team is in the right state of mind entering this tournament.

"If we won that game, we would have been flying high, but it would have been fools gold with false expectations," Lavin said of Saturday's defeat. "We need to get our defensive mindset back."

UCLA's 81 all-time wins in the NCAA tournament are second only to Kentucky's 87.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Hofstra - F Richardson (16.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg), F Gittens (10.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg), C Greg Springfield (5.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg), G Jason Hernandez (12.1 ppg, 3.9 apg), G Rick Apodoca (12.0 ppg, 2.9 apg). UCLA - F Matt Barnes (11.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg), F Jason Kapono (17.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg), C Dan Gadzuric (11.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg), G Watson (14.6 ppg, 5.2 apg), G Billy Knight (7.5 ppg, 0.5 apg).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Hofstra - Automatic bid, America East Conference tournament champion. UCLA - At-large bid, Pac-10 Conference.

ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Hofstra - 0-3, 3 years. UCLA - 81-29, 36 years.

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