Pac-12 tournament gives UCLA another chance to improve its resume for the NCAA Tournament

Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

LOS ANGELES -- Class has been in session for six months now. Whatever UCLA has absorbed is what the Bruins will be able to apply to their biggest tests of the season.

"Lessons that are learned in March, there's a finality," UCLA coach Steve Alford said. "You don't necessarily get another game."

The Bruins know that defense keys their success and that they must sustain effort for more than a few pockets of each game to win. Contributions solely from mainstays Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welsh and Kris Wilkes won't be enough to generate a deep run in the Pac-12 Conference tournament that starts for them on Thursday afternoon at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas against Stanford, which defeated California on Wednesday.

There is one subject, however, in which UCLA fully acknowledges that the learning is ongoing: Bracketology 101.

Are the Bruins (20-10) safely in the NCAA Tournament after closing the regular season with a road victory over USC? Do they need to win their Pac-12 tournament opener to secure one of the 36 at-large bids? How high might they climb in the seedings by winning their first conference tournament championship since 2014?

Anyone's guess seems as good as anyone else's.

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"Some people have us in, some people have us out," Holiday said, "so it's like, I don't know what we have to do that's going to push us in there. Obviously, we could win the tournament. That would help us a lot."

ESPN's Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports' Jerry Palm, two of the most widely respected NCAA Tournament bracket forecasters, both have included the Bruins in their latest projections ... barely. While Palm has slotted UCLA with a No. 11 seeding -- one typically given to one of the final at-large entrants -- Lunardi lists the Bruins as one of his "Last Four In."

That's the same designation Lunardi has given USC (21-10), which opens the Pac-12 tournament Thursday against either Washington or Oregon State. Being one of the last four at-large entrants in the NCAA Tournament means playing a dreaded play-in game in Dayton, Ohio, before advancing to the main bracket.

USC coach Andy Enfield, whose team defeated Providence last season in a play-in game, suggested that the Trojans had already done enough to make it into the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive season. Enfield cited his team's solid RPI (No. 35 as of Wednesday) as well as road sweeps over the Oregon schools and Utah and Colorado as selling points.


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