As a direct result of their disappointing regular season, UCLA now has but one chance to make it into the Big Dance—win the Pac-12 tournament.
To win, UCLA will need to win four games in four days, some against conference opponents as desperate as they are. Ever since the tournament expanded to four rounds in 2006, no team has ever won four games in a row.
Surprisingly, UCLA might do just that.
Despite finishing fifth in a bad Pac-12, the Bruins were closer to winning the conference than their mediocre finish would indicate. At 11-7 in Pac-12 play, UCLA finished only three games back of 14-4 Washington, whom they just beat 75-69.
Looking at their seven losses, it’s easy to pick out five that could have arguably gone the other way.
Losses against Stanford, Oregon State, Washington and Arizona were all decided by three points or less on the road.
Up at the Farm, the Cardinal bested the Bruins by just one point, and UCLA held a sizable lead against in Seattle (where they never win) going into the game’s final stages. Had the Bruins executed a few possessions better against the Beavers and Wildcats, those games could have been wins as well.
The 75-68 score line that accompanied UCLA’s loss at Oregon hides the Bruins’ 13-point halftime lead. Had UCLA played anywhere near the kind of defense we’ve seen from them at home, that’s another win.
Turn those losses into the wins they could have rationally been, and instead of finishing 11-7, UCLA wins the Pac-12 with a 16-2 conference record. Their overall record looks more impressive, too, morphing from 18-13 to 23-8.
Anyone think they miss the tournament then? Would Ben Howland’s job be in question then?
With that in mind, it’s no shock that some have already predicted the dark-horse Bruins to win the Pac-12 tournament despite being a No. 5 seed.
While the superstitious fan in me is already regretting jinxing it, so do I. Going game by game, here’s my take on how UCLA will win the Pac-12 tournament.