Weber State Confident Against Mighty Bruins

Weber State Confident Against Mighty Bruins

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Weber State's David Patten once played alongside Arron Afflalo when the UCLA star was playing terribly. Patten also held his own against most of the Bruins' big men in that same summer league.

So the mighty Bruins are decidedly mortal in Patten's eyes, and the Big Sky Conference's top player hopes his underdog teammates also realize it early in their NCAA tournament game Thursday night.

Patten knows his 15th-seeded Wildcats face stiff odds against Afflalo and the No. 2-seeded Bruins, who are determined to erase the disappointment of a listless loss in the Pac-10 tournament with another deep run in the West Regional. Afflalo believes his club is even deeper and more resilient than the team that reached last season's national championship game.

"There's not a lot of difference between the team last year and the team this year," Patten said. "They have a chance to do something special if we don't knock them off."

But that won't stop Patten, an ebullient Orange County native who transferred to snowy Weber State from Pepperdine, from shooting for another big upset in his school's notable history of NCAA knockoffs.

"It helps me to have played with Arron and to play against their bigs," Patten said. "I've seen them make mistakes. I've seen Arron go 2-for-20 in a summer-league game. That helps me out mentally there."

Sure, the 11-time national champions are heavy favorites against the Big Sky tournament champion Wildcats (20-11) from Ogden, Utah, who somehow transformed a losing program with 10 new players into an NCAA-bound club in coach Randy Rahe's first season.

Bruins coach Ben Howland particularly appreciates Weber State's revival: He played at the school, reaching the NCAA tournament twice and even marrying a Wildcats cheerleader. Howland also recommended Rahe for the job last summer.

Howland won't allow his club to overlook the Wildcats, but he also wants his Bruins (26-5) to avoid an overly cautious funk after losing their regular-season finale against Washington and their opening Pac-10 tournament game against California.

"The sky isn't falling just because we lost two games," Howland said. "Everything is good. We're very fortunate. We've come back with some very good practices, and I think we're going to be fine."

The Bruins held point guard Darren Collison out of practice Wednesday, but Howland believes he'll be ready for the game.

UCLA's projected path through the NCAA tournament is remarkably similar to last season's road -- and every Bruins fan knows how well that trip turned out. The Bruins again are No. 2 seeds who won't be required to leave California before the Final Four.

The Bruins say this treatment isn't home cooking, but simply a reflection of being the West Coast's top basketball power over the last few years. Afflalo and teammate Josh Shipp also have experience in Arco Arena before: Their high-school teams played for state championships here.

"Being close to home (was) part of the reason we were able to be a little bit successful last year," said Afflalo, who seemed remarkably low after scoring just three points in UCLA's loss to Cal. "We're similar defensively to last year's team, (but) this year we have the ability to run, and are a little more exciting, more explosive."

Howland is well aware that Weber State has two memorable first-round upsets in its recent history, knocking off Michigan State in 1995 and shocking North Carolina in 1999.

The Wildcats' chances of adding another to the list are slim -- but after just reaching the tournament, Patten and Rahe aren't prepared to put anything past themselves.

"I hope to make it as ugly as possible," Rahe said. "That's the way we play. The trouble is UCLA can play at pretty much any speed, from what we've seen. I've told our kids if we can keep it in the 50s, that's huge."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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