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UCLA has its sights on No. 1

Times Staff Writer

It’s been USC-BCS this and USC-O.J. Mayo that lately in Los Angeles.

USC’s football team has played its way into the national championship picture, and its basketball team, on the night UCLA opened, stole the thunder by announcing the signing of possibly the nation’s best high school basketball player, Mayo.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Nov. 29, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 29, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
UCLA sports: In Tuesday’s Sports section, an article on UCLA’s basketball team being ranked No. 1 said the school’s next championship would mark its 100th national title. It would be UCLA’s 100th NCAA title. The Bruins already have 120 national titles.

But you can’t paint this town entirely cardinal and gold.

Hard as it might be to penetrate the hubbub surrounding a certain football game this Saturday, the UCLA men’s basketball team is now No. 1, according to the Associated Press poll released Monday.

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The 4-0 Bruins, newly crowned champions of the EA Sports Maui Invitational, received 36 of the 72 first-place votes. In second is Pittsburgh, which means UCLA Coach Ben Howland can feel a little as if he’s No. 1 and 2. The Pitt program is led by one of Howland’s last top recruits, Arron Gray, and is coached by handpicked protege, Jamie Dixon.

“It’s always nice to be ranked No. 1,” Howland said. “It’s a first for me for any team I’ve ever coached. It’s a nice honor. And I’d like to think I had a little hand in Pitt’s success, so, yeah I feel good about that. Jamie’s doing a great job.”

Dixon, who was recruited by Howland when he was a high school player, spread the credit in a telephone interview, saying, “I see a lot of what we do in practice and a lot of what UCLA does in practice is similar to what Jerry Pimm did in practice at Santa Barbara. So maybe we both should give Jerry the credit.”

Howland and Dixon were assistants to Pimm at UC Santa Barbara.

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This is the 129th time UCLA has been ranked No. 1 in an AP poll. Duke is second at 110. It is the Bruins’ first time at No. 1 since they were on top of the final poll of the 1994-95 season, when they finished with their 11th national championship.

The Bruins were second in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll to Ohio State, though UCLA got more first place votes, 13 to 11.

And while the basketball polls were being released, UCLA men’s soccer team was returning from Durham, N.C., where the Bruins had upset top-ranked Duke in a quarterfinal of the NCAA tournament last weekend. The UCLA women have also made the semifinals. If either soccer team wins a national title this weekend, it will be the school’s 100th.

“We arguably believe we have the best inclusive athletic program in the country,” UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said. “It’s what we do and how we do it. As athletic director of this program, I could not be more proud of the UCLA brand.”

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Guerrero said he knew the “Bruin nation” was buzzing about UCLA basketball returning to the top and didn’t skip a beat when it was mentioned some in the “Bruin nation” were not as enamored of the 6-5 football team.

“We want highly ranked programs across the board,” Guerrero said. “We expect to win and when that doesn’t happen, we expect to hear from fans. But we have a plan. The plan is to move forward and we need to do that in sports that aren’t performing as well.”

UCLA men’s soccer Coach Jorge Salcedo said after his team’s trip to Duke that “100% of what’s happening in athletics at UCLA doesn’t get enough credit. To take a phrase out of the Oakland Raiders book, we have a commitment to excellence here. Hopefully that can carry over to football this weekend.”

Oh, that.

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The Trojans and Bruins play at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. At stake? A national championship game appearance for USC. A chance to deny that to USC is the best UCLA can hope for.

“Honestly,” said UCLA junior guard Arron Afflalo, “I like watching USC football. I think it’s great to have that program across town. It makes us all work harder.”

Afflalo said that he didn’t notice any swell of emotion wash over campus Monday when word of the basketball ranking came out.

“It’s not like football,” he said. “Technically, this early, it doesn’t mean much. The proudest thing for me is that we had that tradition here of being on the top and now I’m part of bringing that back.

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“Now that puts a little more pressure on us, especially for myself, and I thrive on that. And now they can’t just talk about North Carolina, Duke, Kansas and Florida all the time. I guess at least they’ll have to say ‘No. 1-ranked UCLA.’ ”

Afflalo said it is up to him also “to make sure the guys keep seeing the bigger picture. Being ranked No. 1, that’s not our goal. Our goal is to be No. 1, and we do that by winning the national championship. Still, this is good.”

What doubts there were about this UCLA team mostly centered on the loss of sophomore point guard Jordan Farmar to the NBA. Sophomore Darren Collison has stepped confidently into that spot and Monday, Farmar’s father, Damon, said it has been “a fun ride” to watch Collison.

“I have to say, UCLA getting the No. 1 ranking so early this year, that’s surprising,” Damon Farmar said. “The team is still playing that tenacious defense and Arron and Josh [Shipp] seem to be keeping the team in stride.”

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Guerrero said that from the time he took the UCLA job four years ago, “we were always talking about UCLA’s rightful place in the sport of men’s basketball. We’re back at that place now and I think it’s good for college basketball. It means a lot for the Pac-10 and all the teams on the West Coast. I think it gives a boost to everybody out here.”

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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Past and future

UCLA is No. 1 in the Associated Press’ college basketball poll, a position it has occupied more times than any other school:A look at what UCLA has done at the No. 1 spot: This week’s AP top 5 teams and when they play next:UCLA’s schedule for the next four games:

*--* WEEKS TEAM YEARS 129 UCLA 1964-2006 110 Duke 1966-2006 84 North Carolina 1957-2001 80 Kentucky 1949-2003 45 Cincinnati 1959-2000 44 Indiana 1953-93 42 Kansas 1952-2005 32 UNLV 1983-91 29 Arizona 1988-2003 28 San Francisco 1955-77 27 Ohio State 1961-62 24 Connecticut 1995-2006 21 Michigan 1965-93

*--*

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* Games: 246 | Record: 232-14 | Pct.: .943

1. UCLA, 4-0: vs. Long Beach State, tonight

2. Pittsburgh, 6-0: vs. Robert Morris, Wed.

3. Ohio State, 6-0: at No. 7 North Carolina, Wed.

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4. Florida, 6-1: vs. Southern U., tonight

5. Kansas, 5-1: vs. Dartmouth, tonight

* Tonight: vs. Long Beach State at Pauley Pavilion, 7:30 p.m.

* Sunday: vs. UC Riverside at Pauley Pavilion, 2:30 p.m., FSN Prime Ticket

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* Dec. 5: vs. Cal State Fullerton at Pauley Pavilion, 7:30 p.m., FSN Prime Ticket

* Dec. 9: vs. Texas A&M; at Wooden Classic, Honda Center, 11:30 a.m., Channel 2


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