Dixon takes on his Mentor

Ben Howland

The matchup has been dreamed about for four years, but never made until the NCAA Tournament committee -- and fate -- intervened.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon against the Bruins Ben Howland. The Student against the Teacher. Dixon spent the better part of his coaching career with Howland, including four seasons with the Panthers before Howland left for Westwood and the Student took over at Pitt.

"They wouldn't schedule it, so the NCAA stepped in to give everybody the game they want to see,'' Pitt center Aaron Gray said. "I just hope we can both give them a great matchup.

"(UCLA) is a No. 2 seed, and we're No. 3. So, why not get both teams together. They're real good, ranked No. 1 in the country at one point this season, when we were No. 2, so it would be a great matchup.''

Advancing to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time could have been a lot easier. The Panthers (29-7) blew a 19-point lead against VCU, and sophomore point guard Levance Fields continued his poor shooting by clanking a 3-pointer and bricking two free throws during the final seconds in regulation. But Fields took over in overtime, which is what he needs to do for Pitt to continue its NCAA Tournament run.

A team must have strong guard play, and the Panthers haven't had that in a while. Fields and Ronald Ramon have been inconsistent shooting and handling the ball. Both were bothered by VCU's press in the second half, as were most of their teammates, and the turnovers led to a huge run that got VCU back in the game. Teams have known this about Pitt this season, at least from the loss at home to Louisville in mid-February, but the Panthers still have been successful. So, there's something to be said for that.

However, each ensuing game in the NCAA Tournament will be significantly more difficult, beginning with UCLA Thursday night in San Jose, Calif. While some were looking ahead to this matchup, players and fans alike, there should be no looking past the Bruins. They aren't unbeatable, but they'll certainly give Pitt its toughest matchup this season.

UCLA is athletic and physical and plays the same type of defense that Pitt plays, aggressive man-to-man, since Dixon learned it from Howland. The Bruins don't press like VCU, however, and that could be an advantage for Pitt. The Panthers should be able to get in their half-court defense, but they also could be in trouble if they let UCLA get into a transition game.

The second-seeded Bruins (28-5), in the Sweet Sixteen for the second straight season under Howland after finishing as the runners-up to Florida last year, beat Indiana 54-49 in a nailbiter in the second round Saturday.

UCLA is led in scoring by 6-foot-5 junior guard Arron Afflalo with 16.7 points per game, while 6-5 sophomore swingman Josh Shipp averages 13.2 points. Darren Collison, a 6-1 sophomore point guard, is at 12.8 points and about six assists per game, while 6-8 sophomore forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (8.5 points and 7.7 rebounds) and 6-9 junior center Lorenzo Mata (6.8, 5.5) provide a more balanced contribution.

The Bruins shoot better than 37 percent from 3-point range with Collison at nearly 46 percent and Afflalo at about 38 percent. UCLA also averages more than 65 percent from the free-throw line, but its top three scorers are excellent. Afflalo is better than 78 percent, while Shipp is around 77 and Collison at nearly 79 percent from the line.

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