Play It Forward March 16-22 on your sports calendar — A priest, a rabbi and an NCAA bracketologist go into a bar room to discuss UCLA’s basketball merits … you heard this one?

UCLA coach Steve Alford tries to motivate his team during the Pac-12 Conference tournament semifinals loss to Arizona in Las Vegas on Friday. Despite the six-point loss, the Bruins made the field of 64 for the NCAA tournament. (AP Photo/John Locher)

UCLA coach Steve Alford tries to motivate his team during the Pac-12 Conference tournament semifinals loss to Arizona in Las Vegas on Friday. Despite the six-point loss, the Bruins made the field of 64 for the NCAA tournament. (AP Photo/John Locher)

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET:

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NCAA MEN’S TOURNAMENT OPENING ROUND
UCLA vs. SOUTHERN METHODIST
Details/TV: South Region first-round game at Louisville, Ky., Thursday at approx. noon, truTV:
2015FinalFourLogoApparently, the joke’s on us. We’re going to give CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb enough rope to provide the shot-heard-‘round-the-basketball world sound bite of motivation for 20-13 UCLA, which somehow squirmed into the field of 64 – let along skipping past spots 65-68 – when it was announced Sunday that they’ll be locking arms with Larry Brown’s 27-6 SMU squad in the first round of the Big Dance. If our memory is correct, back in December when UCLA went up against No. 1-ranked Kentucky in Chicago, Gottlieb predicted on the air that the Bruins had a great shot at an upset. Seth Davis almost laughed him off the set. UCLA then fell behind 24-0, scored seven points in the first half and lost by 39. So at the very least, if UCLA doesn’t deserve to be in this event, with a 2-8 record against teams in this field, with only one road win against a Top 100 team, then who’ll get the last laugh when Steve Alford uses all the talk as fuel to ignite this team that’s still growing into its own.

SMU head coach Larry Brown, right, talks with  Nic Moore during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Connecticut.  (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

SMU head coach Larry Brown, right, talks with Nic Moore during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Connecticut. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Then there’s Brown, the Hall of Fame coach who spent just two seasons at UCLA, but one them – the 1979-80 team that finished 22-10, has a No. 8 seed in the West, and went all the way to the championship before losing by five points to Louisville. At the very least, UCLA provides some local rooting interest – aside from the Big West’s UC Irvine making the field and having to face Louisville right away. Pac-12 winner Arizona, along with Utah and Oregon, are the other conference representatives.
A UCLA win over SMU would put the Bruins into the round of 32 on Saturday against the winner of the Iowa State-UAB contest.
First-round games (all in Dayton, Ohio on truTV):
Tuesday: Manhattan vs. Hampton, 3:40 p.m.; Ole Miss vs. BYU, 6:10 p.m.
Wednesday: North Florida vs. Robert Morris, 3:40 p.m.; Boise State vs. Dayton, 6:10 p.m.

ALSO:
COLLEGE BASKETBALL:
NCAA WOMEN’S TOURNAMENT BRACKET ANNOUNCEMENT:
Details/TV: Monday at 4 p.m. on ESPN/5 p.m. on ESPNU:
In back-to-back seasons, Big West conference tournament champion Cal State Northridge (23-9) has earned a spot in this field, and ESPN bracketologists project the Matadors as a 14th seed in the Spokane region, forced to travel to Corvalis, Ore., and take on No. 3 seed Oregon State (26-4, 16-2 in the Pac-12) in the first round. Ahlee Guay, CSUN’s career leader in points, assists, steals and blocks, heads a team that’s always been closing – they are 23-0 when they have a lead with five minutes left in the game, yet they’ve played only one game this season that has been decided by fewer than six points. The projected top seeds this year are UConn (32-1), Notre Dame (31-2), Maryland (30-2) and South Carolina (30-2). Note that Gamecocks, a No. 1 seed last year, ousted the 16th seeded Matadors in the first round last season, 73-58. There’s also one unbeaten coming into this year’s bracket – 30-0 Princeton – as first-round games begin Saturday.

ALSO:
NASCAR SPRINT CUP: AUTO CLUB 400
Details/TV: At Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Sunday at noon, Channel 11:

Kurt Busch races on the 64th lap during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race on Sunday in Avondale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Kurt Busch races on the 64th lap during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race on Sunday in Avondale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The Busch Factor creates an interesting storyline here. Defending champion and three-time Fontana winner Kyle Busch, who outlasted rookie Kyle Larson by .214 seconds to win this race last year, continues to recover from a compound break of his right leg and a fracture of his left foot during a wreck at Daytona last month. So he’s not coming out. David Ragan has been replacing Kyle in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and he finished 21st in last week’s Sprint Cup event in Avondale, Ariz. And then there’s older brother Kurt Busch, who came back from a three-race suspension and made it to the No. 5 spot last week. Maybe it’s just more relief for him that he’s not facing any criminal charges over the alleged assault of an ex-girlfriend last September. Kevin Harvick, winners in two of the first four races this season, already has a sizable lead over Joey Logano in the Sprint Cup standings, while Danice Patrick (we knew you were wondering) is back in 23rd place without a top 10 finish yet.
Also: NASCAR Xfinity series Drive4Clots.com 300
At Auto Club Speedway, Saturday at 1 ;p.m., Fox Sports 1.

THE REST OF THE WEEK INCLUDES:

The men’s and women’s final of the BNP Parabis Open in Indian Wells (Sunday at 11 a.m., ESPN) could led to a every emotional ending for Serena Williams … The Kings have already dropped three of the previous four meetings against the Ducks in this Foaming Frozen Freeway Furious Frenzy, but there’s the last one of the regular season (at Honda Center in Anaheim, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., NBCSN) … The Clippers’ most important game of the week is against Washington (Staples Center, Friday at 7:30 p.m., Prime TIcket) … The Dodgers and Angels are on Fox Sports West — take advantage of it (Thursday at 1 p.m.) … More events at this link.

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