The UCLA men’s basketball team has all but eliminated itself from contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Bruins were projected as a No. 4 seed two weeks ago when the NCAA tournament committee released a preliminary bracket – even after defeating Oregon.
But it may well be playing for a No. 2 seed Saturday night, not to mention a spot in the West region. As far as consolation prizes go, that’s not too shabby. UCLA’s last and best opportunity to alter the perception of itself is Saturday’s game at Arizona in a building where the Wildcats have won 21 consecutive games.
Between Arizona, Oregon and UCLA, only one will stay in the geographically friendly West region. If UCLA loses its second game to Arizona this season, it will likely be third in line when it comes to the NCAA tournament committee’s Pac-12 preferences. The conference tournament, of course, presents opportunities to play either, or both teams again. But there is no better scenario to impress the committee than a true road victory at McKale Center.
It has been a long time since UCLA and Arizona met while each was an elite team. This is the first time since 1999 the Pac-12’s flagship programs have played each other as top 10 teams. As far as the regular season Pac-12 title goes, the Bruins’ chance to catch Arizona – or Oregon, for that matter – appears to be gone. Nonetheless, this remains one of the biggest games of the Steve Alford era.