PHOENIX – UCLA coach Ben Howland showed a sense of humor Wednesday when he made light of the officiating that has gone the Bruins' way over the past few weeks.
"There seems to be an idea that there's some kind of conspiracy theory that's helping UCLA with the officials," said Howland, whose team faces Western Kentucky in the NCAA West Regional semifinals on Thursday. "I hope that's true, but I can assure you that's not the case."
Texas A&M fans are livid that officials failed to call a foul when Aggies guard Donald Sloan went up for a game-tying jump shot in the final seconds of last week's two-point, second-round loss to the Bruins. Photos of the play reveal that Sloan was hacked.
"Officiating is difficult," Howland said. "It's always prone to human error. You know they're going to make mistakes throughout the game. I always try to keep my cool and not react when we get a bad call that goes against us.
"I don't think that any one call decides a game. If you go back and watch the game, is any one call more important than any other call? We're not worried about anything that's said. We're just happy to (still) be playing."
• Forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said the ankle injury that's limited him the past few weeks shouldn't be a factor against Western Kentucky.
"I'm coming back 100 percent," said Mbah a Moute, who averages 8.6 points. "I don't feel much pain, and the swelling has gone down. I will be ready to go."
Mbah a Moute missed the Pac-10 tournament championship game as well as the Bruins' opening round NCAA tournament game against Mississippi Valley State.
• Bruins forward Kevin Love couldn't help but smile when he heard some interesting news about an Oregon student who flipped him off during UCLA's game in Eugene earlier this year.
Turns out the student's father saw a picture in a magazine of his son making the obscene gesture toward Love. He responded by taking away his son's car and making him take a bus back to school.
"Karma is a - - - - - ," said Love, a Portland native. "And you can fill in the blank on that one."
PHOENIX – West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was asked more than once about the changes that have occurred in his personal life recently – particularly since he suffered a heart attack a few years ago.
"It's like New Year's Eve," Huggins said. "You say, ‘I'm going to do this.' But by the third of January you're back to doing what you did before.
"I really haven't changed all that much. I'd like to sit here and tell you that I eat better, but look at me. That's obviously not the case."
• More than a tongue-lashing or an embarrassing benching during a game, Huggins' team has come to fear the treadmill. Huggins sometimes has the Mountaineers' staff set up one of the machines alongside the court during workouts. When a player isn't performing up to his ability, he's forced to run.
"I think I've been on it more than anyone else on the team," center Jamie Smalligan said. "I probably run four or five miles on it during practice. Before you know it you're on there so much its like second nature. You don't even worry about the punishment. You just do it without thinking about it."
• Not many players in the country have been as hot recently as West Virginia forward Joe Alexander. The junior is averaging 25.5 points over his last six games.
"I've had several guys that really wanted to be good players," Huggins said. "Guys that really put in the time and really worked at it. Joe's right up there with those guys. He's in the gym all the time."
• As much as any team in the tournament, Xavier has benefited from taking advantage of what comes free.
Four Musketeers are shooting better than 83 percent from the free-throw line. As a team, Xavier is making 75.5 percent of its fouls shots.
Players said their performance is a reflection of coach Sean Miller, who shot about 90 percent from the line as a collegian.
"Every time in practice, when we break down into free-throw shooting, he always says, 'No talking,'" forward Josh Duncan said. "He says to concentrate on free-throw shooting, because it's one of the most important things for our team. You can see it's paying off in big situations for us."
• Xavier's success this season will likely result in Miller being mentioned for several coaching vacancies at bigger schools. Asked about the situation, Miller said his focus was solely on Thursday's regional semifinal matchup against West Virginia.
"Xavier has been great," Miller said. "I look forward to being that guy who can stay at a place like Xavier and take pride in not just having (one) good season or (one) good run but can continue to develop the program into the future, year-in and year-out.
"That, right now, is my focus more than anything."