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March 15, 2007
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Arron Afflalo put an awful game behind him in UCLA's impressive NCAA tournament opener.
Shaking off a terrible performance in last week's Pac-10 tournament, Afflalo had 22 points and eight rebounds to lead the Bruins to a 70-42 victory over Weber State on Thursday night in the West Regional.
Darren Collison had 14 points and eight assists while playing on a sprained ankle, and Josh Shipp added 12 for coach Ben Howland's second-seeded Bruins (27-5), who reached last season's national championship game before falling short of their 12th NCAA title.
But after spending six weeks of this season ranked No. 1, UCLA lost its previous two games before traveling to Arco Arena - including a humiliating loss to mediocre California in the conference tournament that cost them a chance at a No. 1 seed.
Afflalo, the conference player of the year, was particularly stung by the last loss because of the way he played: Scoring a season-low three points on 1-of-7 shooting, and later hanging his head in the locker room.
But Afflalo was back on his game as soon as he stepped on the floor where he led his Compton high school to a state title. He scored 15 points in the first half as UCLA rolled to an 18-point halftime lead on the overmatched Wildcats (20-12) of the Big Sky Conference.
Dezmon Harris led Weber State with 10 points, but top big man David Patten managed just nine points on 1-of-6 shooting.
One year after reaching the NCAA title game, UCLA again is a No. 2 seed out west - and once again, the Bruins won't have to leave California to reach the Final Four.
They'll face the winner of Indiana's game against Gonzaga - UCLA's foe in the West Regional final last year - on Saturday.
Though 15th-seeded Weber State has a history of NCAA upsets, Howland wouldn't allow his alma mater to even get a taste of another. Howland played for the Wildcats in two NCAA tournaments back when he sported short-shorts and a full head of hair.
The Wildcats kept it close until Juan Pablo Silveira hit a 3-pointer with 7:57 left in the first half, trimming UCLA's lead to 15-14.
The Bruins then finished the half on a 22-5 run, holding Weber State without a field goal for the rest of the half. Afflalo hit two of his three 3-pointers on consecutive possessions before Michael Roll hit him under the basket for a layup 1 second before halftime.
Collison sprained his ankle during practice this week, but didn't seem affected by his injury - particularly while stripping Weber State's point guards to set up easy baskets on a handful of occasions.
Weber State won the Big Sky tournament to earn its first NCAA tournament berth since 2003 despite having 10 new players on first-year coach Randy Rahe's roster. The purple-clad Wildcats of Ogden, Utah, have two notable first-round wins in their recent history, knocking off Michigan State in 1995 and stunning North Carolina in 1999.
Rahe hoped to keep the score in the 50s to give his Wildcats a chance - but UCLA had 37 points by halftime and surpassed 50 in the opening minutes of the second half.
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