NCAA West Regional: The Bruins' charmed life

First, those end-of-season games with Stanford and California, and now Texas A&M. All had great chances to beat UCLA. All could not. And all are convinced that a whistle blown here, or a whistle not blown there, prevented conquest.

This has become a theme in recent weeks -- that the Bruins, the no. 1 seed going into the NCAA Tournament's West Regional in Phoenix, is getting the red-carpet treatment from the striped shirts due to name, reputation and location.

All the games in question took place in Southern California, either at Pauley Pavilion or, in the case of A&M, in Anaheim, where the Aggies' Disney ending was short-circuited.

Having blown a double-digit lead in the second half, and having seen Darren Collison drive and score a lay-up with 9.5 seconds left, A&M still had enough time to tie or win its second-round encounter with the Bruins.

Donald Sloan drove to the lane and, ignoring wide-open teammates on the sides for a possible winning 3-pointer, forced up a shot. It looked, on replay, that two UCLA players hacked him, but no whistle.

Instead, the Bruins celebrated, but with wary concern. Were it not for Collison's clutch play or Kevin Love playing like the Pac-10 Player of the Year that he is, a third straight Final Four trip would be answered in the negative by this point.

And now it's on to the desert, where UCLA, despite its cliffhanger routine, should still be the overwhelming favorite to go further east to San Antonio. That's helped, in no small part, by the fact that the other big names in the bracket got tossed aside in the Dance's opening weekend.

Duke was always a fragile no. 2 seed because it lacked size and needed the 3-pointers to fall. Neither thing happened in the first round against Belmont, requiring Gerald Henderson's drive and lay-up in the final seconds to offer a great escape against Vince Gill's alma mater.

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