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UCLA refuses to focus on possible Pac-12 championship

Coach Rick Neuheisel, when he was still addressing UCLA crowds, told fans after the spring scrimmage, “There can be only one first-time [Pacific 12 Conference] champion and it might as well be the Bruins.”

Ah, but getting Neuheisel to talk about this week’s game against Arizona State as a steppingstone toward that goal is a teeth-pulling experience.

The Bruins can move into a first-place tie in the South Division with a victory over the Associated Press 20th-ranked Sun Devils at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. “Skittish” would best describe Neuheisel’s reaction to that thought.

“We don’t talk about that,” Neuheisel said. “I think our mind-set needs to be what we do rather than what might or might not be. We learned that lesson the hard way.”

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UCLA needed only to defeat Arizona on Oct. 20 to move into a first-place tie two weeks ago. The Wildcats won, 48-12.

The Bruins stabilized their situation with a 31-14 victory over California on Saturday. Another victory this week pulls them even with Arizona State and, possibly, USC. The Trojans are not eligible for the conference’s championship game on Dec. 2.

“I think we have seen what can happen if you don’t focus on the blocking and the tackling,” Neuheisel said. “The game can get away from you quickly. If you’re thinking about the prizes, you’re focusing on the wrong thing.”

Neuheisel said the Bruins were caught up in that before playing Arizona.

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“There is no one to blame but me for talking about it,” Neuheisel said. “We are not going to make that mistake again.”

No longer defensive

UCLA defensive players had certainly heard enough about the Arizona game, and had seen enough as well.

After Arizona rolled up 573 total yards, the decision was made to not relive the experience.

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“We didn’t really look at the tape much at all,” linebacker Patrick Larimore said. “We just watched a few clips of things we needed to fix. I didn’t need to see the whole game again.”

The Bruins will enjoy this week’s tape sessions. UCLA held California to 333 total yards. The Bears also turned the ball over five times.

“It is a great feeling to get the weight of the Arizona game off our shoulders,” Larimore said.

The difference was felt even before the game.

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“We were anxious to get out there,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “We couldn’t wait to play. I think that showed. Everyone was flying around and having a great time.”

Triple dare

Tevin McDonald tied a UCLA record by intercepting three passes in Saturday’s game. He is the fifth player to intercept three passes in a game, the last being Rahim Moore in 2009.

“The first one got me excited,” McDonald said. “The second one got everyone else excited. The third one was the best feeling. We just wanted them to keep throwing it up.”

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All three interceptions led to UCLA points.

Aaron Hester also intercepted a pass. The four interceptions were the most by a UCLA team since the Bruins intercepted four against Arizona in 2003.

Riley fine

Safety Dietrich Riley, who suffered a neck injury during Saturday’s game, was released from Huntington Hospital on Sunday.

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“Everything checked out fine,” Neuheisel said. “Dietrich was here today and looked great. He seems ready to go. The doctors are going to be careful and look at him tomorrow.”

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes


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