Play It Forward: March 18-24 on your sports calendar: tru(TV) story — Bruins already an underdog against the Gophers in NCAA tourney opener

Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET:

COLLEGE BASKETBALL:
NCAA Men’s Tournament, second round:
UCLA vs. Minnesota, in Austin, Tex., 7 p.m. Friday, truTV:
We were just getting used to the idea that the 25-9 Bruins would be opening the tournament as a sixth seed playing against Wichita State in Kansas City as part of the Midwest Regional – thanks Lunardi (who actually had them as a fifth seed earlier Sunday before making more adjustments). Instead, a sixth seed in the South bracket going up against a 20-12 Golden Gophers bunch that lost its first-round game in the Big Ten tournament might be an even more fortuitous draw for Ben Howland’s team that comes into the Big Dance limping noticeably. Don’t count on it. RJ Bell of Pregame.com already has the Bruins as a 3-point underdog, making 11-seeded Minnesota one of two lower seeds favored over a higher seed in the first round (the other is nine-seed Missouri a 3-point favorite against eight seed Colorado State). No wonder it’s not even a game CBS, TNT or TBS wanted to take with the possession arrow.
As for the 16 teams who’ve been sent to play in the West Regional that funnels into the Staples Center on March 28-30: The TV talking heads seemed to imply that it was the weakest of the four, especially with Gonzaga holding down the No. 1 seed. The few who are on board with Mark Few’s Zags aren’t listening to those who predict undervalued, third-seeded and 29-5 New Mexico Lobos to have enough juice to get to the Final Four after their performance in the competitive Mountain West tournament. The MWC, by the way, had a No. 2 RPI rating as a league, with UNM a No. 2 RPI rating as a team, behind Duke. “I’ll put our starting five up against anybody,” said Lobos coach Steve Alford. “The tournament is about seeds and it’s about matchups. We’re prepared, we’re healthy, we’re confident and we’re playing our best basketball of the year.” The tournament begins Tuesday and Wednesday with the so-called “First Four,” then the second and third rounds on Thursday and Friday.

BEST OF THE REST:

MONDAY

NHL: Kings vs. Phoenix, 7:30 p.m., Staples Center, FSW:
The Coyotes have gone almost a week without a goal – the last one they scored was in the third period of a 5-2 win over the Kings on March 12.

NBA: Lakers at Phoenix, 7 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
The Lakers’ final 14 games of the regular season won’t get much easier than what’s on the schedule this week, even if Kobe Bryant remains doubtful with the bad ankle.  Although, during the Lakers’ last trip to Phoenix – which was Steve Nash’s first visit as an ex-Suns star – they were outscored 29-13 in the fourth quarter during a 92-86 Phoenix win.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NCAA Women’s Tournament selection show, 4 p.m., ESPN:
UCLA (25-7) couldn’t knock out Stanford (31-2) for the automatic bid from the Pac-12, but it should still get them a decent seed in one of the four regionals when the pairings are announced. The tournament begins Saturday.

Series: “Dancing With The Stars,” Season  16 opener, 8 p.m., Channel 7:
Of the 15 previous winners, six have been pro athletes, and three were current or former NFL players. Baltimore Ravens receiver Jacoby Jones has that to live up to with this latest lineup that includes boxer Victor Ortiz, Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman and former Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill.

TUESDAY

NHL: Kings vs. Phoenix, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:
Not a misprint. Quirks in this condensed schedule result in strange back-to-back situations, and here’s another one of ‘em.

NBA: Clippers at Sacramento, 7 p.m., Prime:
You saw what the Lakers could do to Sacramento without Kobe Bryant. Expect worse here.

WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC: Championship game: Puerto Rico vs. Dominican Republic or the Netherlands, 5 p.m., AT&T Park in San Francisco, MLB Network:
The second semifinalist (the game is played Monday at 6 p.m.) will face a Puerto Rico squad that eliminated the Americans. After this, everyone gets back to the regular spring-training regime.

Series: “Splash,” season premier, 8 p.m., Channel 7:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is somehow joined by the Detroit Lions’ Ndamukong Suh, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Katherine Webb and a bunch of other C-listers for a “competition” held at Riverside City College, where those who fear diving into a pool will be repeatedly mocked, then rewarded for their courage. Don’t forget your goggles, big guy.

WEDNESDAY

NHL: Ducks vs. Chicago, 7 p.m., Honda Center, Prime:
The two leaders of the Western Conference also have the two greatest point totals of any team in the league. The Ducks scored a shootout win on Feb. 12 in Chicago. Put on the big-boy gloves again, this one could go extra minutes.

NBA: Clippers vs. Philadelphia, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., Prime:
The Sixers are just that on the road — six wins this season so far, against 23 losses.

THURSDAY

NHL: Kings vs. Dallas, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, FSW:
The Stars’ 5-2 win over the Kings at Staples Center on March 7 is still a fresh would — especially with the 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr scoring two goals.

FRIDAY

NBA: Lakers vs. Washington, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
It wouldn’t be out of the questions for the Wizards to be riding a five-game win streak coming into this one. They won three in a row after last week ended, with games against Charlotte and Phoenix before this.

SATURDAY

NBA: Clippers vs. Brooklyn, 7:30 p.m., Staples Center, Prime:
This game marks the end of a run where the Clippers have five home contests out of six. Win all three this week, and they’ve matched the franchise’s single-season record with 49 victories.

NHL: Kings vs. Vancouver, 1 p.m., Staples Center, FSW:
The Kings’ five-game home run finishes against the Canucks. What fan in L.A. was able to see each of those five in a row this week?

SUNDAY

NASCAR: Sprint Cup Auto Club 400, Fontana, noon, Channel 11:
Depending on your allegiances, there’s a few ticket deals offered up by Auto Club Speedway that might be worth riding shotgun. A two-day “Danica Patrick Package” includes a reserved seat for Sunday’s race (somewhere in rows 15-23), general admission to Saturday’s Nationwide Royal Purple 300 (2 p.m., ESPN), a pre-race pit pass and access to an “exclusive race day Q&A with Danica” at 9 a.m. Sunday. That was going for $105 (and it had to be purchased by last Sunday). The Jimmie Johnson junket has the same reserved Sunday race-day ticket and pit pass, but also a scanner rental to hear the crew chatter and a Q-and-A on him Sunday at 9:20 a.m. That’s $110, with $20 going to his foundation. Then there’s the Budweiser Block Party pass – same seat for Sunday’s race and pit pass, access to a hospitality “chalet,” a buffet, Bud Girls, cash bar, closed-circuit TV, T-shirts, hats, parking passes . . . and … wait for it … an appearance by Kevin Harvick. All for $129. There’s always the option to stay at home, avoid the traffic, unlimited access to a personal restroom, watch on TV. Free. Like a true American. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
Practice sessions are 11:30 a.m. Friday and 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Saturday, with qualifying at 4 p.m. Friday.

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