Monday, May 25

Smith Says: Men’s basketball has better prospects for conference title this season

Junior guard Aaron Holiday is one of just five upperclassmen remaining from last year's men's basketball team, which lost to Oregon in the Pac-12 opener. This season, the Bruins will open conference play with a pair of home games.(Jintak Han/Daily Bruin senior staff)

UCLA men’s basketball will open its 2017-2018 conference schedule with a lot less stress than it did last season.

In 2016, the Bruins began conference play in Oregon, where they dropped their first game of the season following a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Ducks forward Dillon Brooks.

UCLA was 13-0 at the time, and instantly found itself in a tough spot after losing to one of its biggest conference rivals.

Oregon only played Arizona one time last season, which made it hard for UCLA to make up ground in the conference standings, after losing at USC and then at home against Arizona later in the season.

The losses came back to bite UCLA in the conference tournament, where it failed to secure a higher seed and thus found itself in an uphill battle, in which it would have had to beat USC, Arizona and Oregon in consecutive days to win the conference title.

UCLA also fell to a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and was placed in the same regional bracket as eventual national champion North Carolina, as well as Kentucky, who eliminated UCLA in the Sweet 16.

However, this season UCLA will have a better opportunity for success right out of the gate in the conference of champions.

The Pac-12 released its men’s basketball schedule late last month. The Bruins will start out with match-ups against Washington and Washington State – two of the bottom three teams from conference play last year – in the first week of conference play.

The Bruins also won’t have to face Oregon until the fourth week of the conference and won’t see Arizona until the seventh.

Last season, UCLA had to play both Oregon and Arizona twice, a major disadvantage considering they dropped a game to each team. This season, it will only see Arizona once.

This will give UCLA time to gain ground on the two schools if the two happen to fall behind in the standings at some point.

For a team entering the new year with 10 underclassmen, the Bruins have been gifted the opportunity to build chemistry and confidence in meaningful conference games – without having to be seriously tested right out of the gate.

Sports senior staff

Smith is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the football and men's basketball beats. He was the 2018-2019 Sports editor and an assistant Sports editor in 2017-2018. Smith was previously on the women's basketball, men's water polo, baseball, men's golf and women's golf beats.

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