Proving almost every bracket projection wrong, the Bruins earned a No. 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament’s South Region. They will play on Thursday in Louisville against No. 6 Southern Methodist, helmed by former UCLA head coach Larry Brown.
Their spot had looked increasingly tenuous as CBS’ selection show rolled on, as bubble team after bubble team flashed up on the screen: Indiana, LSU, Georgia, Boise State. But it turned out that the Bruins had done enough to impress the NCAA selection committee.
“One of the tougher the committee has had to make,” said Scott Barnes, the NCAA selection committee chair. “We tracked UCLA over the last month or so, felt like they were gaining steam. … I think the eye test was a plus in putting them in the field.”
The surprise bid comes just two days after it lost to Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinal. A win over the Wildcats would have almost been enough to move UCLA (20-13) safely off the bubble — but it turns out that even the 70-64 loss, as good a showing as anyone expected, was already enough.
If those hold, the Bruins will likely end up being one of the first four teams out, which would give them a No. 1 seed in the NIT and a few more home games at Pauley Pavilion. A little more than a week ago, Norman Powell was emphatic about wanting to continue playing if the Big Dance wasn’t an option.
“Yeah, of course,” he said. “I feel like we have a high chance, but if we don’t, playing in the NIT — you can’t knock it,” the senior said. “Reggie Miller played in the NIT. Great players have played in the NIT. It’s not like, ‘Oh, you guys suck. You guys didn’t make the tournament.’ It’s a chance to extend the season. We play in the NIT, we’re going to go on just like it’s the NCAA Tournament and try and win that.”
The consensus in the locker room more or less followed that line of thinking after Friday’s loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinal.
After five straight losses, UCLA is sitting with an 8-7 record and in serious danger of missing the NCAA tournament. Junior center Tony Parker admitted as much on Tuesday, shortly before the Bruins practiced at Pauley Pavilion.
“That’s definitely in question,” Parker said. “You have to win games to make the tournament. That’s a big-time thing for us. We have to win games to make the tournament. … We have a chance. We have a shot. It’s early. The line is going to draw in every conference pretty soon.”
He left the window open for his team by citing Oregon’s stretch of eight losses in 10 games before eventually winning eight straight and earning a No. 7 seed in March Madness.
No. 11 Minnesota over No. 6 UCLA might be the most popular upset pick in the whole NCAA field. The Gophers may have lost 11 of their last 16 games, but the Bruins haven’t inspired much national confidence after falling to Oregon without Jordan Adams.
No. 6 UCLA (25-9) vs. No. 11 Minnesota (20-12)
Tipoff: 6:57 p.m. PT, Frank Erwin Center (University of Texas at Austin) TV: truTV
Conference play: The Golden Gophers opened the season 15-1 and 3-0 in the Big Ten, but have lost 11 of their 16 games since. Minnesota finished in a three-way tie for seventh in the conference alongside Illinois, a seven-seed, and Purdue, which did not make the field of 68. The Gophers lost in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, falling 51-49 to the Illini.
Coach: Tubby Smith is one of the most well-known coaches in college basketball, but hasn’t replicated the success he had at Kentucky. He began his career in Lexington with an NCAA title in 1998, and reached three Elite Eights and two Sweet Sixteens before resigning in 2007 due to public pressure and dissatisfaction.
Minnesota will be making its third NCAA appearance in six years under Smith, and are looking for their first victory after two double-digit losses in the first round. Continue reading →