A PRELUDE TO MADNESS?

For Stanford and Arizona, the three-day PAC-10 hullabaloo that commences in Los Angeles on Thursday amounts to a seeding warm-up for next weeks' start of the NCAA Tournament.<br><br> For the five other participants, it represents a lone chance to catch lightning in a bottle and shove their way into the Dance.<br><br> Win three, get in. Lose one, and go home.

UCLA (7-11, 11-16) vs. Washington (12-6, 17-10)
PAC-10 Tournament Quarterfinal
Thursday, March 11 – 6:15 PM
Staples Center – Los Angeles, CA
Previous meetings: January 10 – UCLA 86, at Washington 84 (OT)
February 7 – at UCLA 80, Washington 75


But for the Washington Huskies, the bubbles of NCAA possibilities will likely percolate on their performance over the next three days – perhaps even Thursday, when they will face the glad-to-be-here UCLA Bruins in a PAC-10 quarterfinal at the Staples Center.

Indications are that Washington is perched precariously on the proverbial "bubble". While finishing the regular season with a committee-loving flourish and climbing from last to second place in a seven-week maelstrom of media-noticeable wins, the Huskies still have an RPI that serves as a boulder around their collective necks.

Lorenzo Romar clearly feels the need to impress the selection committee with a good conference tournament showing. "The more we win, the more we take it out of the committee's hands," says Romar, now an even 27-27 in his second Husky season. "We just have to keep trying to get wins."

A Washington win on Thursday will go a long way towards turning that boulder into a charm. UCLA is the lone albatross on the Husky conference ledger, having swept the regular season series. A third loss to the sub-.500 Bruins could spell doom to Washington's NCAA hopes, while a "neutral court" victory – Staples Center is less than 15 minutes from UCLA's Westwood campus - would give the Huskies an 18th win on the season, which most pundits agree should be enough to get in.

The two schools are at opposite ends of the "streak" spectrum as tourney play opens - Washington screams into tinseltown on a school record-tying seven-game conference winning streak, and victors of 12-in-14 overall. Meanwhile, UCLA had to get permission from their cross-city rivals at USC to slip through the back door, losing both games of their Oregon trip and tip-toeing into Thursday's contest only because of the Trojans' win in Corvallis last Saturday night.

"We appreciate the assist from Henry (Bibby)," said UCLA coach Ben Howland after learning of USC's purchase of both L.A. schools' tickets into the PAC-10 dance. "Now it's a whole knew season, so it's a good thing for us.

"(Washington) is the hottest team in our league," says Howland, whose Bruins count only four wins in 17 games – but two coming against the Huskies. "It's going to be hard to beat a good team a third time, but our kids know they have beaten them." Freshman forward Trevor Ariza agrees. "We're coming in knowing we've beaten them twice," said Ariza, who averaged 16.5 points in the two UCLA wins. "I think it's the best situation for us."

Chimes center Ryan Hollins, "We match up well with those guys."

The match-up sits well with the Huskies – who will be wearing their home uniforms on Thursday. "We've never beaten (UCLA) since I've been here," says sophomore Bobby Jones.

"And (to lose to them) three times in one year? There's no way I want anything like that on my record."

Nope. Just another win will do for now.

GAME NOTES: Not only was Washington swept by UCLA in the regular season, but the Huskies have lost their last four PAC-10 tournament games in a row. Their last Staples Center appearance was two years ago, an 86-64 thrashing by Oregon. Only Curtis Allen and Will Conroy would remember that debacle ... Following coach Howland's lead that "to get past the first day, we have to have bounce in our legs", UCLA didn't practice on Monday ... Conroy's season high was a 29-point effort against the Bruins in the teams' first meeting at Hec Ed, while Brandon Roy put up a career-best 30 in the loss at Pauley Pavilion ... Not only do the Huskies boast five players who average in double-figures, but they have a unique streak going in which they've had five double-figure scorers in five straight games ... For the first time in 44 years, UCLA did not have a player named to the All-Conference team. Trevor Ariza did make the all-Freshman team, however ... Unless the Bruins can somehow win the tournament to steal the PAC-10 automatic's NCAA berth, and follow that up with three more wins to get to the Elite Eight, they will suffer through back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in 63 years ...


PROBABLE STARTERS:
UCLA
Player              YR/HT/WT    PTS/REB   vs. WASH
--------------------------------------------------
#4 Trevor Ariza     FR/6-7/195  11.5/6.4  16.5/7.5
#43 T.J. Cummings   SR/6-9/215  12.8/6.7  20.0/11.0
#15 Ryan Hollins    SO/7-0/225   6.4/4.3  5.5/3.0
#1 Dijon Thompson   JR/6-7/198  14.5/4.3  12.0/1.5 
#21 Cedric Bozeman  JR/6-6/200   7.6/5.4* 6.5/8.0*

WASHINGTON
Player              YR/HT/WT    PTS/REB   vs. UCLA
--------------------------------------------------
#15 Bobby Jones     SO/6-6/200  11.2/5.1  8.5/4.0
#42 Mike Jensen     SO/6-8/230   7.4/4.5  4.5/4.0
#2 Nate Robinson    SO/5-8/170  12.4/3.7  13.5/4.5
#3 Brandon Roy      SO/6-5/195  13.4/5.4  23.0/8.0
#5 Will Conroy      JR/6-1/190  12.3/4.6* 18.5/4.5*
* - assists per game

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