SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Arron Afflalo knows athletes are never supposed to look beyond their next postseason game. On Selection Sunday, he did it anyway.
When the West Regional brackets came out, he immediately noticed his Bruins' path back to the NCAA title game went through Kansas. The Jayhawks were the top seed, perhaps the nation's best team entering the NCAA Tournament -- and the team Afflalo had watched warily on television since Thanksgiving weekend, when the Jayhawks beat defending national champion Florida.
Nearly two weeks later, the top-seeded Jayhawks (33-4) and the second-seeded Bruins (29-5) have earned that date, with a trip to the Final Four going to tonight's winner.
"We tried not to look ahead, but we all knew there was a good chance we would play Kansas," said Afflalo, the Pac-10's player of the year. "We've been ready for that for a long time now. That's how you want to go, though. You want to go against the best in the sport, and that's our opportunity now."
Both teams went through light workouts yesterday before one of the most tantalizing matchups of the college basketball season, pitting two tradition-rich programs in a compelling clash of coaching styles and playing philosophies.
"No matter how well we do at Kansas, we're never going to do more than the people who came before us, and UCLA feels the same way," Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. "These guys are all great players, but they're not going to be Wilt [Chamberlain] or Danny [Manning]. We're caretakers of something we take great pride in for the period of time we're here on campus."
Yet this meeting could be something significant in both schools' histories. The game pits teams that prefer distinctly different styles -- Kansas's up-tempo offense against UCLA's hard-nosed defense -- but have no problem changing to fit the situation.
Kansas essentially couldn't run against Southern Illinois's defensive virtuosity Thursday night, but still scrapped its way to a 61-58 victory. UCLA thrives in coach Ben Howland's slower, punchier scheme, yet still believes it has enough athletes to run past any squad in its way, including the Pac-10's speediest teams.
The teams have something else in common: Confidence in their skills, their adaptability, and their plans for next weekend in Atlanta.
"We can only beat ourselves," UCLA guard Darren Collison said. "That's the way we feel. We feel like we're the best team here."
But if the Bruins attempt to match Kansas's fast-breaking speed, "I think that would be a bad idea," said Kansas guard Russell Robinson, whose matchup with Collison could determine the game's tempo and result.
"We've got enough guys to be able to play defense, and still get out and run. I want it to go up and down. I think it would be a good game, and a better game for [Kansas]."