The fall seasons are wrapping up in Westwood, and NCAA tournaments are looming. The Daily Bruin Sports editors all shared their takes on how far they think UCLA will go in the five sports that have postseason games this quarter.
Ryan Smith, Sports editor
The Bruins will not be representing the Pac-12 South Division in the conference championship game nor will they be playing in a bowl game.
UCLA football (2-5, 2-2 Pac-12) started the season 0-5, but back-to-back wins over California and Arizona have sprung the Bruins back into contention within the Pac-12.
Utah – the current leader in the Pac-12 South – will visit the Rose Bowl on Friday in a game that could end up being the deciding factor in who reaches the conference championship. And even if UCLA can come away with a victory, the remainder of its schedule is far from a walk in the park.
The Bruins will hit the road for back-to-back road games at Oregon and Arizona State, and then will return home for the final two weeks of the season. UCLA is set to host USC in the second-to-last week of the year, and Stanford – a team UCLA has not beaten since 2008 – in the season finale.
It is hard to see the Bruins winning two or more of those games, so a win Friday is imperative to their chances of reaching a Pac-12 championship.
Expect UCLA to give the rest of the conference a run for its money, but a 4-8 record with a third- or fourth-place finish in the South looks to be the most likely scenario.
Men’s water polo
Joy Hong, assistant Sports editor
The defending national champions will relive their only loss of the season against Stanford in the NCAA championship game in December.
Then-No. 2 UCLA men’s water polo (19-1, 0-0 MPSF) fell to then-No. 1 Stanford (15-1, 1-0) after a buzzer beater by the Cardinal in the MPSF Invitational on Oct. 13.
The Bruins – an inexperienced squad with five underclassmen in its starting lineup – are going to need one more year to win the title again.
But UCLA will definitely make the tournament.
With only six teams making the NCAA championships, the Bruins have made the tournament every single year since water polo became a collegiate sport in 1969.
This year will be no different with UCLA’s near-perfect record. But for UCLA, the race comes down to competition against USC, California and Stanford – the other “Big Four” teams.
And that’s where its inexperience is going to play a factor.
The Bruins graduated four of their top six scorers – seniors last season who held leadership roles both in and out of the pool.
UCLA has made the championship game in six of the last nine years. But although coach Adam Wright has led the Bruins to three titles in the last four years, his young squad is likely to fall short this season.
Gabriel McCarthy, assistant Sports editor
The Bruins are going to win the national championship this time around.
No. 8 UCLA women’s soccer (11-3-1, 6-2-0 Pac-12) has three matches left in the regular season, including a showdown with No. 2 USC (14-1-1, 7-1-0) in its final conference game.
After playing a nonconference schedule at the start of the season against then-No. 4 Florida State and then-No. 22 Florida and losing once, UCLA has lost two matches against Washington State (10-5-0, 3-5-0) and No. 1 Stanford (14-0-1, 7-0-0).
The Bruins have posted a six-game win streak against Pac-12 opponents since falling to Stanford 3-2, the same score as the NCAA College Cup final last season. UCLA has recorded 19 goals in the past six games and have averaged 2.27 goals per game this season, as well as an average of 16 shots per game.
Sophomore forward Ashley Sanchez has recorded five goals in the past five games and leads the Bruins in goals and assists. In the last home game of the season against Oregon State (2-14-0, 1-7-0) the Bruins put six goals past the Beavers, with senior forward/defender Hailie Mace returning to the team and scoring a brace.
Mace and junior midfielder Jessie Fleming returned to the UCLA squad after featuring at the CONCACAF Women’s Championship with the United States and Canadian national teams, respectively. The duo re-entered the starting 11 with match experience against the highest skill level available, with Fleming recording one goal and two assists and Mace logging one assist in the tournament.
Given the run of form the Bruins are on and with players returning to the lineup, UCLA has the chance to advance to the College Cup final and challenge for national championship #117 in December.
Angie Forburger, assistant Sports editor
The Bruins look like the same team that lost last year in the NCAA round of 16.
After getting swept in three early conference games, No. 20 UCLA women’s volleyball (11-6, 6-4 Pac-12) has won four of its last five games and is tied for fourth place in the Pac-12.
The Bruins finished 12-8 in conference play last season – the record UCLA would have this year if its second half of Pac-12 play goes exactly like the first.
The 2018 team also lost two early matches this season against then-No. 22 Cal Poly, similar to last year’s Bruins who lost back-to-back games in September 2017 to then-No. 12 Nebraska.
When UCLA concludes this year’s Pac-12 matchups and looks ahead to the NCAA tournament in November, it will likely stay ranked in the top 25 and host the first two rounds of postseason play before advancing to the regional semifinals – just like in 2017.
However, the round of 16 will put the Bruins up against a top-ranked opponent – a feat UCLA has not been able to overcome since defeating then-No. 6 North Carolina in the 2016 regional semifinals.
The Bruins have only advanced past the round of 16 once since their championship season in 2011, and this year will be no different.
Sam Connon, assistant Sports editor
Coach Jorge Salcedo has championship pedigree.
But even though the Bruins already have more wins than they did last year, they won’t be going to the Final Four in 2018.
UCLA men’s soccer (9-4, 4-1 Pac-12) is ranked No. 18 in the RPI, so it should be one of the 48 teams to make the tournament. The Bruins have five games left on the schedule, three of which will be at home, where they own a .800 winning percentage.
They’re already on a four-game winning streak, and a strong finish to the year should be enough to get UCLA a top-16 seed and home-field advantage in their first two matches of the NCAA tournament.
The Bruins were playing down to competition earlier in the season – losing to unranked San Francisco, CSUN and UC Santa Barbara in September – but they seemed to have pulled it together since. Once UCLA secures the right to host matches in the tournament, I think they should make it to the round of 16 with ease.
Once the Bruins match up with equal or superior competition, like when they lost 3-0 to Stanford on Sept. 30, I think that will be the end of the line for them.
Championships are always the goal in Westwood, but coming off its worst season in 69 years, an Elite Eight finish would be good enough.