Back in the late 1970s, when Kim Zahnow was a Weber State cheerleader, a basketball player fancied her, and eventually the two were married. Twenty-six years later, that same player called Weber State athletic director Jerry Graybeal and recommended Randy Rahe for the Wildcats’ vacant men’s basketball coaching position. “I’m happy for (Rahe), and in some way, doing the right thing may end up biting me from behind here,” said Howland, who graduated from the Ogden, Utah, school in 1979. “I hope not. I’ve known Randy for probably 15 years. He’s very good.” The Bruins (26-5) lost the top seed in the West with their first-round loss to California in the Pacific-10 Conference tournament (Kansas is the West’s top seed), but it set up a number of potentially juicy matchups along the road to Atlanta, site of the Final Four. UCLA opens against Howland’s alma mater, and could play the winner of No. 7 seed Indiana vs. No. 10 seed Gonzaga. Not only did Howland begin his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the ‘Zags, but the Bruins rallied from 17 points down to beat the Bulldogs in the regional semifinals last March. And there is also a possible Sweet 16 meeting in San Jose with Howland’s other favorite team, No. 3 seed Pittsburgh, where he coached before UCLA. “I’m not surprised by it. I don’t chuckle, but I’m not surprised by it,” Howland said. That player, now in his fourth season as UCLA’s coach, is Ben Howland, who remains very much in touch with his Wildcats roots. So when the NCAA tournament selection committee matched No. 2 seed UCLA and No. 15 Weber State in the first round of the West regional Thursday in Sacramento (tipoff is slated for 4:25 p.m.), Howland admitted seeing the irony, even if he didn’t see the humor in it. “CBS is paying a lot of money to telecast the NCAA tournament, about $700 to $800 million a year over the lifetime of the deal … so, of course, if good TV is available, it’s going to be more commanding to viewership.” More pressing than the connect-the-dots lineage of Howland’s basketball career is the mindset of his Bruins, whose confidence remains shaken after they dropped their past two games to non-NCAA participants Washington and Cal. “I would say 90 percent (is the confidence level),” Bruins sophomore Alfred Aboya said. “We need just a couple more days to boost it to 100 percent.” Aboya said UCLA’s confidence was “really low” after the Pac-10 tournament loss, and Howland began to rebuild it during Saturday’s practice. Arron Afflalo, UCLA’s All-American guard, said Howland altered his practice set-up of starters against reserves. Afflalo and point guard Darren Collison were on one side, and power forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and wing Josh Shipp on the other. “We had a very hard practice, and it feels like we’re a winning team again,” Afflalo said. “It was real competitive, very intense. Coach mixed up the teams and it made it very competitive.” Certainly, getting a win will build confidence, but the Bruins face a team that improved dramatically from the beginning of the season and a program known for pulling first-round upsets. The Wildcats, who were 10-18 last season and have 10 first-year players, are well-versed in NCAA upset lore. As a 14th seed, they defeated North Carolina in 1999 and Michigan State in 1995. “Pretty much anybody that plays against UCLA has to look at them as mighty UCLA,” said Pepperdine transfer David Patten, who is scoring a team-high 14.4 points per game. [email protected] (818) 713-3607 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!