UCLA Will Play Tulsa : Midwest: The Bruins are seeded fifth; the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champion is No. 12.
UCLA got its NCAA tournament assignment Sunday and along with it a geography lesson.
The Bruins were seeded fifth in the Midwest and will play a first-round game Friday in Oklahoma City against 12th-seeded Tulsa of the Missouri Valley Conference.
For the most part, the Bruins were clueless about their opponent.
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know Tulsa was in Oklahoma,” Ed O’Bannon said.
He wasn’t alone. Tyus Edney and Charles O’Bannon didn’t know it, either, but Coach Jim Harrick said that’s nothing to be surprised about.
“California guys are like that,” Harrick said. “They don’t know past Yuma, Ariz.”
Soon, the Bruins will know all they want to about the Golden Hurricane of Coach Tubby Smith. Tulsa finished the season 21-7 and won the regular season MVC title, but lost to Northern Iowa in the conference tournament semifinals.
“I do know this--both teams are going to bring it,” Ed O’Bannon said. “We’re all excited. It’s a goal of ours to reach the ultimate game, the Final Four, so this is just one step further to where we want to get.”
There is plenty in the way. If UCLA gets past Tulsa, it will play the winner of the Oklahoma State-New Mexico State game.
Oklahoma State is favored, so the potential for back-to-back games against Oklahoma teams in the state capital could be a daunting prospect for UCLA.
“No one said it would be easy,” Charles O’Bannon said. “It’s a tough draw for us.”
If UCLA wins twice, it is seeded to play No. 1 Arkansas in the Sweet 16.
“I think we have a chance,” Ed O’Bannon said. “Nothing in life is easy. For us to get where we want to be, we have to do the best we can.”
The Hurricane is a high-scoring, up-tempo and not very tall team. Sophomore center J.R. Rollo, at 6 feet 9, is the only starter taller than 6-5.
Tulsa averages 82.4 points and made a school-record 223 three-pointers, led by 6-4 forward Gary Collier. The MVC’s player of the year, Collier averages 22 points.
Tulsa has won eight of its last nine games, 15 of its last 18 and is coming into the tournament playing consistently, something UCLA cannot say about itself.
The Bruins are only 7-6 since a 14-0 start and were beaten Saturday by Oregon, the Pacific 10 Conference’s eighth-place team.
“Hopefully, we’ll kind of wake up a little bit and smell the tournament,” Ed O’Bannon said. “I guess things happen. We aren’t the only team to have ups and down.
Edney said he isn’t concerned about the state of the Bruins now that tournament time is here.
“I’m confident everybody realizes this is a new season,” Edney said. “What’s happened is in the past and we can put that behind us.”
Harrick, who said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the Bruins’ chances, does not think there is any lingering UCLA mystique at his disposal that he can use against Tulsa.
“I wish there was, but I haven’t found there to be too much of that,” he said.
Smith is in his third year at Tulsa after two years as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Kentucky. Smith said Tulsa, which lost to No. 1-ranked Arkansas in overtime, 93-91, is excited to be playing UCLA.
“It’s good to see our guys aren’t in awe of UCLA,” he said. “We’ve competed against the best in the nation.”
The Pacific Trail
A look at the first-round games for the four Pac-10 Conference entries in the NCAA men’s tournament:
Friday at Oklahoma City
* No. 5 UCLA (21-6) vs. No. 12 Tulsa (21-7)
Thursday at Ogden, Utah
* No. 5 California (22-7) vs. No. 12 Wis. Green Bay (26-6)
Friday at Sacramento
* No. 2 Arizona (25-5) vs. No. 15 Loyola (Md.) (17-12)
Friday at Landover, Md.
* No. 8 Washington St. (20-10) vs. No. 9 Boston College (20-10)