Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Pac-10 Tourney Goes Through UCLA

By Bruin Basketball Report

Bruins play on Thursday, March 9, at 2:50p.m. PT.

The Pac-10 tournament begins Wednesday night with games between the four lowest seeds of the tournament.

In the first game No.8 seed Arizona State plays No.9 seed Oregon State; while the second game matches No.7 seed Oregon and No.10 seed Washington State.

It’s the first time all ten conference teams will be participating since the Pac-10 tournament resumed four years ago.

The UCLA Bruins are the No.1 seed team in the tournament after winning their first Pac-10 regular-conference championship since 1997 with clinching victories over California and Stanford last weekend.

With a Pac-10 regular-season title won and an NCAA bid assured, how important is winning the Pac-10 tournament to the Bruins?

“We want to build momentum going into the NCAA tournament.” Howland said, “How we play in the (Pac-10) tournament is taken into consideration in our (NCAA) seeding.”

In the past, certain coaches have complained the Pac-10 tournament was unnecessary and wore teams down before the NCAA tournament. Howland doesn’t agree with the assessment.

“The conference tournaments are great for college basketball.” Howland said, “It creates attention for the NCAA tournament.”

The teams in UCLA’s Pac-10 tournament bracket include No.4 seed Arizona, No.5 seed Stanford, No.8 seed Arizona State, and No.9 seed Oregon State.

It appears to be a favorable draw for UCLA since the Bruins have won all games this season against the conference teams in their tournament bracket.

Moreover, Arizona, the highest seed in the bracket besides UCLA, recently lost their top player, Hassan Adams, due to disciplinary reasons. Adams was arrested over the weekend for a DUI violation and was suspended for the entire Pac-10 tournament by Arizona head coach Lute Olson.

The first tournament game for the Bruins is scheduled for Thursday when they face the winner of the opening round contest between Arizona State and Oregon State.

UCLA swept Arizona State this season, winning at Tempe on a last second Jordan Farmar lay-up, 61-60, and then beat the Sun Devils in Pauley Pavilion, 69-60. The Sun Devils are led by guard Kevin Kruger and All-Pac-10 Freshman team forward Jeff Pendergraph.

Oregon State is led by 6’10 sophomore standout Sasa Cuic from Croatia. UCLA defeated the Beavers twice this season, the first time at Corvalis 63-54, and then rallied in the second half to crush the Beavers 78-60 in Pauley Pavilion. Last year, Oregon State eliminated UCLA from the Pac-10 tournament in the opening round, 79-72.

The No.2 tournament seed is No.13 ranked Washington which is led by Pac-10 Player of the Year Brandon Roy. Washington swept UCLA in both conference games this season.

The Huskies will have a tougher road than the Bruins to get to the Pac-10 championship game.

The Pac-10 teams in Washington’s bracket are No.3 seed California, No.6 seed USC, No.7 seed Oregon, and No.10 seed Washington State.

California poses the biggest concern for Washington - they split their games together this year. The Bears are led by Pac-10 Player of the Year runner-up Leon Powe and fellow All-Pac-10 team member Ayinde Ubaka.

The Washington Huskies have handled the Ducks in both their games this season but Oregon has great athletes, and they have the ability to cause a stir in the tournament.

Surprisingly, it is last-place Washington State Cougars which might provide the Huskies with their most dangerous match-up of the tournament - considering the Cougars swept both games against the Huskies during the regular-season.

Notwithstanding the tough games in the tournament, most expect the two top seeds, UCLA and Washington, to be in the championship game on Saturday - a game which will have important implications for each school’s NCAA tournament seeding.

With already two conference losses to Washington, a third consecutive loss by the Bruins to the Huskies would not bode well with the NCAA selection committee.

More specifically, if the two teams meet in the Pac-10 tournament championship game, the winner will likely receive the higher NCAA tournament seed and have a better chance of staying in the West Region bracket.

This year’s NCAA West Region is highly desirable to UCLA, since the first two rounds in the region take place in nearby San Diego and then is followed by two rounds in Oakland. Conceivably, a West Region team would not have to leave the state of California until the Final Four round in Indianapolis.

With two potential games against teams with high RPI ratings (Arizona and Washington), UCLA has an opportunity to improve upon its NCAA seeding this week in the Pac-10 tournament.

“From my experience, if we win the Pac-10 tournament we can be as high as a (NCAA) No.2 seed,” Howland said, “and as low as a No.3 seed if we lose.”



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