UCLA hasn’t even played in this year’s Pac-12 Tournament, its NCAA Tournament chances have already gotten a little weaker.
The fourth-seeded Bruins will play USC on Thursday at 2:30 p.m., an easier matchup than any other they could have hoped for — but also a game that offers little for their postseason resume. UCLA is on the wrong side of the bubble with a 19-12 record. Beating the 12th-seeded Trojans — who upset Arizona State, 67-64 — doesn’t do much to help its case.
“Being last in the (Pac-12), teams can’t really afford to lose to us,” said USC sophomore Julian Jacobs. “We’re aware they’re on the bubble of making the tournament. And we’d love to stop them from making the tournament.”
Steve Alford’s team has a much better chance at beating USC for the third time this season than beating the Sun Devils. But there was a slim chance that a win over ASU would have been enough for a spot in the Big Dance. Now, UCLA likely won’t get into the field of 68 unless it reaches the Pac-12 title game, a path that likely means beating No. 1-seeded Arizona.
Thomas Welsh (40) celebrates with Norman Powell (4) and Bryce Alford as UCLA defeated USC 85-74 on March 4, 2015. The teams could face each other again in Las Vegas. (John McCoy/Staff)
UCLA finished its regular season on Wednesday with a win over USC, leaving the Bruins with nearly eight days until their first game in the Pac-12 Tournament.
They now know who they’ll likely face next Thursday at 2:40 p.m. Arizona State clinched the No. 5 seed today when it beat Cal and Stanford lost to Arizona. That matches the Sun Devils up against the 12th-seeded Trojans on Wednesday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena; the winner will advance to face No. 4-seeded UCLA.
USC only has five conference wins in two seasons under Andy Enfield, none of which have come against their crosstown rival. ASU beat the Bruins in their only meeting this year, taking a 68-66 decision in Tempe.
If UCLA wins that Thursday game, it will almost certainly draw No. 1 seed Arizona in the semifinals — assuming that the Wildcats dispatch either Cal or Washington State. An upset by the Bruins to reach the Pac-12 title game would move the team off the NCAA Tournament bubble.
UCLA beat USC, 85-74, on Wednesday to clinch the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament — also ensuring a last-place finish for the Trojans. The Bruins will need to win at least one game in Las Vegas to stay in the NCAA Tournament picture.
“We’ve still got work to do, just like a lot of teams in the country,” head coach Steve Alford said. “You can’t stop. You’ve got work to do. This team’s playing better. It’s playing very good at the right time.”
UCLA held a “Senior Night” ceremony shortly before Wednesday night’s tipoff against USC. Unsurprisingly, starting guard Norman Powell got the loudest reception, drawing a standing ovation from Pauley Pavilion when his name was announced.
Also recognized were walk-on guards David Brown, Nick Kazemi and Kory Alford.