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UCLA is hoping for a happier ending to this NCAA tournament

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This was Selection Sunday for most.

This was do-over Sunday for UCLA and its coach.

The Bruins were rewarded for their Pac-12 tournament championship. The NCAA selection committee made them the fourth-seeded team in the South Regional and allowed them to stay on the West Coast.

UCLA (26-8) will play Tulsa (21-12) on Friday in the Viejas Arena on the San Diego State campus.

It's the time of year college basketball players make memories … or try to expunge them.

A year ago, sixth-seeded UCLA was bounced from the NCAA tournament by Minnesota in the first round.

A year ago, Coach Steve Alford's third-seeded New Mexico team was shown the exit by Harvard.

A year ago, they all dealt with disappointment.

Kyle Anderson went home to New Jersey for spring break.

"I had to get away from basketball," he said.

Norman Powell came back to Westwood.

"I watched the game tape," Powell said. "I knew we were a much better team."

Alford took the UCLA job … a week after New Mexico was eliminated.

"I have thought about that game," Alford said. "I haven't thought about it a lot."

But, he said, "it sits with you. You always want your players to experience March Madness for as long as you can, because it is so special."

The Bruins intend to stick around awhile this year, and can draw on the pain of last season as a reminder how quickly it can end.

"It hurt watching teams move on to the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, the Final Four," Powell said.

No one ached more than UCLA guard Jordan Adams, who missed the tournament after breaking his foot in the Pac-12 tournament semifinal game against Arizona. He stayed home to have surgery while his teammates flew off to Austin, Texas.

"I was home on the couch watching," Adams said. "That was painful."

No pain, no gain?

"I've been thinking about it a lot," Anderson said. "Watching the tournament last year, it looked like a lot of fun being out there, being on TV, everybody watching, everyone tweeting about it. I want to be a part of it."

There are distinct differences as the Bruins enter this year's tournament. Their coach won't be fired is the starting point. A tumultuous season ended with Ben Howland being let go three days after the loss to Minnesota.

Alford's job security is only part of the Bruins' assets.

Adams is healthy.

Anderson was already one of the nation's top players and upped his game during the conference tournament, for which he was named the most valuable player.

The Bruins ride into tournament play after beating fourth-ranked Arizona in the Pac-12 title game.

The only two people in the UCLA program who had experienced cutting down nets after winning a college title had been Alford and Tyus Edney, the director of operations — Alford in 1987, when Indiana won the national title, and Edney in 1995, when UCLA won it.

"Our players experienced what that type of celebration is like," Alford said. "It's fun. What happened to them last year. What happened to us last year. When you combine those things, there is an eagerness to make this last as long as we can."

What happened in Vegas, the Bruins say, won't stay in Vegas.

"We know what the feeling is like to lose in the tournament," Anderson said. "It was terrible. It's not something we want to be a part of again. That's our focus."

The most important thing that the Bruins brought home from the Pac-12 tournament wasn't the trophy. It was the knowledge that they could sustain success on the road.

UCLA had split every two-game trip in the Pac-12 this season. They swept through Oregon, Stanford and Arizona in three days in Las Vegas.

Said Alford: "Now we've done it, as we get ready to play in the NCAA tournament, where we have to win on Friday and Sunday, I can tell our guys, 'We just won three straight games against high-quality opponents.'"

Which for the Bruins is a much better memory lane to stroll down.

"Win or go home," Powell said. "We know what that is and we're ready for it."

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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