Updated with team reactions
UCLA secured a No. 6 seed on Selection Sunday, but the celebration was somewhat muted.
The Bruins were happy more or less happy with the number, though coach Ben Howland said he expected a four- or five-seed. They were fine with playing No. 11-seed Minnesota on Friday, a team they still need to study on film.
But the location? Those 1,300 miles to Austin, Texas, wasn’t what the team wanted — especially not as two other Pac-12 schools were slotted in California. Howland said last week that he was more concerned with the location than the seed, and stuck true to that sentiment after the bracket was released.
“Honestly? I’d rather be Cal right now, playing in San Jose,” he said. “I’d rather be a 12-seed right now, playing in San Jose. Absolutely. Especially for the fans.”
Added freshman Shabazz Muhammad: “I thought we deserved to go there. But you know how it is. It’s politics in sports. They do whatever they want.”
The Bruins (25-9) will open the round of 64 in the South Region, but thought that a regular-season conference title should have been enough to keep them in the West. Now, they match up against a Gophers (20-12) team that has the nation’s eighth-best rebounding margin.
Should it advance to the next round, UCLA could potentially meet third-seeded Florida, a program responsible for three of the Bruins’ last five NCAA tournament exits. A run to the Sweet Sixteen seems unlikely, particularly after the loss of second-leading scorer Jordan Adams. The freshman guard is done for the season with a broken right foot.
UCLA had bad losses this season — Cal Poly, USC, Washington State — but also built up strong numbers with a No. 27 RPI and a No. 17 strength of schedule, according to ESPN. The Bruins didn’t think they deserved to be dinged for the loss of Adams, but the committee likely thought otherwise.
It was hardly the Pac-12’s worst snub. The conference looked significantly improved this year after securing just two NCAA tournament bids last year. Even as teams beat up on each other in league play, most projections correctly had five teams in the field of 68.
But Oregon, which beat UCLA Saturday for its first conference tournament title since 2007, got slighted with a 12-seed — the most obvious sign of the Pac-12’s meager national reputation. No other Pac-10 or Pac-12 tourney champion has ever been seeded worse.
“I think our conference has a chance to do something good in the tournament,” Howland said. “We pull for everyone in the Pac-12 because, obviously, we need to gain some respect.”
The decision only looked more bizarre as Colorado and Cal, both of which had weaker resumes, ended up with No. 10 and No. 12 seeds, respectively. The Bears also ended up with a rematch against No. 5 UNLV, whom they lost to by one point in December. Selection guidelines state that “if possible, rematches of regular season games should be avoided in the second and third round.”
Arizona also received a No. 6 seed, and will match up with No. 11 Belmont on Thursday in Salt Lake City — a little over 800 miles from Tucson, Ariz. The Bruins beat the Wildcats three times this season, including a 66-64 victory in the Pac-12 semifinals that ended with Adams’ injury.
“That’s what March Madness is all about,” said senior point guard Larry Drew II, the only UCLA player with NCAA tournament experience. “It’s just a whole scrambling. Everybody kind of waits and see where they’re going to be placed. Some people might be a little disappointed.
“I just think as long as guys stick together and stay optimistic and stay excited, everything will take care of itself.”