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Bruins thinking big in NCAA tournament

SAN DIEGO — Guard Norman Powell was 6 years old when his uncle brought the tape.

There on the screen was UCLA's Tyus Edney dribbling through Missouri defenders, then tossing in the game-winning layup at the buzzer in the defining moment of the Bruins' 1995 NCAA championship run.

"This time of year, people look at UCLA because of all the national championships," Powell said.

2014 NCAA Tournament Bracket

Guard Kyle Anderson, back in New Jersey, would see those four letters every March.

"I was in middle school and I can remember watching Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook playing in the Final Four," Anderson said. "There was this glow about them."

More than one basketball team occupied UCLA's locker room Thursday. Several past Bruins teams are along on this NCAA trip.

The No. 20 Bruins (26-8) open the NCAA tournament against Tulsa (21-12) in Viejas Arena on Friday. UCLA is seeded fourth in the South Regional. Tulsa is seeded 13th.

It is a big moment for the Golden Hurricane, which will play in its 15th NCAA tournament.

"Getting here was our goal," Tulsa guard James Woodard said. "We want to extend that … We want to make a name for Tulsa."

It is a first step for Bruins players, who already have the name. A 12th national title is where the bar is set. That expectation comes with the UCLA uniform, players say. All they have to do is ask Edney, the program's director of basketball operations.

"I'm glad I don't have to look back and say, 'We didn't win a title,' " Edney said. "Every year we didn't win, it was disappointing. It was upsetting. That's why you come to UCLA."

The Bruins tote that history into Friday's game against a Tulsa team that appears overmatched.

UCLA is judged by its fan base, and pretty much the entire college basketball world, by NCAA tournament success. It's a bill, come due each year, for having John Wooden, who won 10 titles.

"You don't come here unless you understand that tradition, and those championships," Edney said.

Powell was nearly 3 when the Bruins won their last title in 1995. Anderson was barely 2. Yet, the two came to UCLA with the knowledge that they were expected to add an NCAA championship banner … or two.

"We don't hang conference championship banners, and things like that, in Pauley Pavilion," Anderson said. "We hang national championship banners."

Could this be the year? Well, this is the highest the Bruins have been seeded since 2008, when they were a top-seeded team and reached the Final Four for the third season in a row.

The expectations have led to disappointment, like last season.

UCLA stumbled into the tournament without guard Jordan Adams, the team's second-leading scorer, and was summarily dismissed by Minnesota, 83-63, in the first game.

Some teams would walk away happy just to be there. Not UCLA.

Coach Ben Howland was fired. He took UCLA to three Final Fours. But this was the fifth consecutive season that the Bruins didn't make it past the tournament's first weekend.

"I was hurt, and I know the guys who came back this year didn't like the feeling," Anderson said.

And would that be acceptable this season? "Nah … no … no," Anderson said.

Preventing that requires dealing with UCLA history as well as Tulsa's players.

There is nothing to do but embrace the past. Coach Steve Alford understood that when he arrived in Westwood last spring.

"The first thing he did was emphasize history by hanging all national championship banners down the walkway from our locker room to the court," senior forward David Wear said. "It was a reminder what we represent when we're on the court."

The trick, Anderson said, is to not let the weight of that world crush you.

"We focus on what goes on in our locker room, between our team," Anderson said. "Fans, people will say what they have to say. We focus on what we need to do."

Which is clearly defined at UCLA.

"It's not really acceptable to just make the tournament," Wear said. "You've got to go deep into the tournament. You've got to be in the Final Four."

And win a championship.

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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