UCLA Basketball In The Pac-12 Tournament: A Preview and Analysis


Mar 2, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins guard/forward Shabazz Muhammad (15) drives to the basket against Arizona Wildcats during the second half at the Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

All is well in Westwood – for the time being at least.

UCLA’s basketball team, in winning their 31st conference championship in their storied history, not only accomplished one part of their goals, they exceeded expectations as these Bruins were picked to finish second in the Pac-12.

In his tenth season as the head coach, Ben Howland’s team overcame quite a bit of adversity such as having a real deficiency in size and rebounding, which was a big factor in them losing to teams such as Cal Poly and  – most recently – last-place Washington State to win their fourth regular season conference title in eight years and first since 2008.

And they successfully fought off Oregon (who was tied for first with Bruins on the last day), California and Arizona to win what could be classified as a wickedly close pennant race if this were Major League Baseball.

Not to mentioning sustaining a top-25 ranking as UCLA is currently 21st in the AP poll and number 25 in the coaches poll, their much-vaunted recruiting class, led by Shabazz Muhammad’s team-leading 18.3 points per game and Kyle Anderson’s team-leading 8.9 rebounds per game, living up to their hype.

That is the situation as these Bruins travel to the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas to battle in the Pacific-12 Conference Tournament, which begins on Wednesday, March 13th, with UCLA’s first game being on Thursday, March 14th at noon.

The first-seeded Bruins’ opponent will be either 8th-seeded Stanford, who UCLA swept this year, or 9th-seeded Arizona State, who the Bruins split their two games with as they beat the Sun Devils in Pauley Pavilion but were walloped in Tempe by 18 points due to ASU’s size advantage on the boards, mostly in the form of 7′ 2″ center Jordan Bachynski, who dominated UCLA with 22 points and 15 rebounds on January 26.

The fact that Arizona State had 20 more rebounds than the Bruins and blocked ten of UCLA’s shots in that beating is the main reason why I – and I’m sure this Bruin team even though they would most likely deny it and say it doesn’t matter – would rather face Stanford’s Cardinal as they provide a more favorable match-up with Howland’s squad.

If UCLA gets through the first game – and there is absolutely no guarantee of that as this season, for the Bruins, can best be characterized as a case of “Which UCLA team is going to show up on a given night?” the semi-finals are scheduled for Friday evening, March 15th while the Pac-12 Tournament final is on Saturday night, March 16th, at 8:00 p.m., with Selection Sunday being held the next day.

While they are more or less a lock for the NCAA Tourney barring a disastrous fiasco on Thursday, it’s important that UCLA makes a good showing in Las Vegas; winning at least two games, which would put them in the final, would be most beneficial as it would enhance the Bruins’ resume, along with them beating then-#7 Missouri in December, winning ten straight games in January, sweeping then-top ten Arizona, and raise their seeding in the Big Dance – maybe even landing them in the West Regional.

In any case, this promises to be a most exciting conference tournament in Sin City for this simple reason:

In my view, five teams (including UCLA) can emerge as the Pac-12 Tournament Champion and get the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The other four teams that can win this thing besides the Bruins are:

– Arizona, who is ranked 18th, was in the nation’s top ten for much of the season, and had the Pac-12’s best overall record at 24-6,

– Oregon, who beat UCLA earlier in the year, was ranked in the top-25 and were in a dead heat with the Bruins before losing the conference title with their loss to Utah,

– California, who finished in a three-way tie for second in the Pac-12 with Arizona and Oregon at 12-6 and boasts the conference’s leading scorer – and Pac-12 Player of the Year – in Allen Crabbe,


– Colorado, the defending Pac-12 Tournament champ who at 10-8 in the conference and 20-10 overall, is quite underrated and is very capable of beating any Pac-12 foe and repeating as tourney champions.

The dark horse in all of this is Arizona State, who like Colorado won 20 games this season and can beat anyone on a given day – hence my desire for Stanford to beat those Sun Devils on Wednesday so the Bruins won’t have to worry about them.

Feb 27, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins guard Kyle Anderson (5) and UCLA Bruins guard Jordan Adams (3) during overtime of the game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Pauley Paviliion. UCLA won in overtime 79-74. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Before two of their players were suspended for allegedly starting a brawl in Spokane after their loss to Washington State, I had the USC Trojans as a dark horse as well, due to the fact that they were playing much better under interim coach Bob Cantu than they were under Kevin O’ Neill, who was fired in mid-January.

The bottom line in all of this is, UCLA must handle their business in Vegas, the keys for Bruin success being:

1.  To force turnovers and to convert them into points, which would help to offset their disadvantage up front and in the rebounding department,


2.  To shoot around 60% every game and make a good amount of their three-point attempts.

Putting it quite simply and bluntly, if the Bruins do those two things, they’ll win. If they don’t, they’ll suffer an early exit and will have to pray that they won’t suffer the same fate as Washington did last year, when the Huskies were not invited to the NCAA Tournament despite being the regular season Pac-12 champs due to their tanking in the conference tourney.

Since UCLA, unlike Washington last season, is in the top 25, I don’t expect them to be snubbed if the worst-case scenario comes to pass, but you never know.

That’s why they must be in top form starting on Thursday, and not suffer any let downs like they have made a bit of a habit of doing.

We’ll soon find out if these Bruins will be in such top form.