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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLA

Men’s basketball rises in rankings with win streak ahead of regular-season finale

Coach Mick Cronin finished his 13-year tenure at Cincinnati with nine straight trips to the NCAA tournament. UCLA men’s basketball joined the projected bracket for the first time all season Monday. (Andy Bao/Daily Bruin)

By Sam Connon

March 4, 2020 4:47 p.m.

The Bruins are off the bubble.

For now.

UCLA men’s basketball (19-11, 12-5 Pac-12) has won seven games in a row and has emerged victorious in 11 of its last 13. In the midst of their hot streak, the Bruins have gone from a projected No. 8 seed in the National Invitation Tournament to a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Prior to its most recent wins over Arizona State and Arizona, UCLA was in ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s First Four Out. However, coach Mick Cronin said he hasn’t talked with his team about their status as they’ve inched closer to March Madness.

“I never talk about it with the team; we’re in a one-game tournament and they knew it – we all know it,” Cronin said. “If you guys can figure out all the metrics and the stuff they spew, I can’t. So it would be a complete waste of my time.”

Heading into its matchup with California on Jan. 19, UCLA was the No. 151 team in the NET rankings. The Bruins have since jumped all the way up to No. 75 – still only good for ninth among Pac-12 teams – but are No. 27 in both the AP and Coaches Polls.

Arizona remained at No. 10 in this week’s update of the NET rankings despite losing to both UCLA and USC over the weekend. While Cronin avoided outright criticizing the second-year national rankings method, he said every tournament tool is arbitrary at some level.

“When they put it out, I never read what it entailed, and so I think you’ve got to coach basketball and teach basketball to win games, or it’s just not going to matter,” Cronin said. “So I don’t even know what goes into it to where I could criticize it, but I hear the same things everybody else hears. … Those committee jobs – I’ll tell you my experience with it – there’s so many metrics, if you want to put a team in, you cite that metric. If you want to put them out, you cite that metric.”

Freshman guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. said the Bruins’ winning streak has fueled them over the past few weeks and that he doesn’t plan on letting it get cut short before next week’s Pac-12 tournament.

“We’re all competitors, we want to play basketball; it’s a competitive game and we want to win games,” Jaquez said. “This feeling is great, and we don’t want it to end anytime soon.”

Jaquez hit the game-winning 3-pointer against Arizona State on Feb. 27, but he isn’t the only one getting more attention around campus.

Sophomore guard Jules Bernard had a block that led to a 3-pointer that gave UCLA a first-half lead against Arizona on Saturday, and he said several students on campus and in his French 3: “Elementary French” class have come up to congratulate him.

“I think it gives us a little more motivation because we want to continue to prove ourselves,” Bernard said. “We’ve had a great streak, and we want to continue that streak.”

UCLA will have a chance to continue that winning streak, boost their NET ranking, squeeze into the AP Top 25 and secure at least a share of the Pac-12 regular-season championship in its season finale against USC on Saturday.

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Sam Connon | Sports senior staff
Connon is currently a Sports senior staff writer for the football and men's basketball beats. He was the Sports editor for the 2019-2020 academic year, an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, men's soccer, cross country, men's golf and women's golf beats from 2018-2019 and a reporter on the baseball and women's basketball beats from 2017-2018. Connon also contributes movie reviews for Arts & Entertainment and co-hosts Daily Bruin Sports' weekly podcast, "Out of Bounds." Connon is a rising fourth-year Communication student from Winchester, Massachusetts.
Connon is currently a Sports senior staff writer for the football and men's basketball beats. He was the Sports editor for the 2019-2020 academic year, an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, men's soccer, cross country, men's golf and women's golf beats from 2018-2019 and a reporter on the baseball and women's basketball beats from 2017-2018. Connon also contributes movie reviews for Arts & Entertainment and co-hosts Daily Bruin Sports' weekly podcast, "Out of Bounds." Connon is a rising fourth-year Communication student from Winchester, Massachusetts.
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