Men’s basketball returns to Las Vegas for shot to play in March Madness
Redshirt junior forward Cody Riley has started in all but one of UCLA men’s basketball games heading into the Pac-12 tournament. (Andy Bao/Daily Bruin staff)
No. 5 Oregon State
Thursday, 2:30 p.m.
By Sam Connon
March 10, 2021 12:44 p.m.
The last time the Bruins were in Las Vegas, they were preparing for a Pac-12 quarterfinals matchup with the Golden Bears.
That game never tipped off – the conference tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the entire roster and coaching staff were packed on a plane and shipped home.
One year later, they’ll be heading back to Sin City with another trip to March Madness potentially on the line.
No. 4 seed UCLA men’s basketball (17-8, 13-6 Pac-12) earned a bye in this year’s Pac-12 tournament – despite dropping its final three games of the regular season – and will face off against No. 5 seed Oregon State (14-12, 10-10) on Thursday.
While limited family and friends will be allowed at the game for the first time all season, coach Mick Cronin reminded the media Tuesday just how much of an impact the pandemic still has 12 months after it initially shut down American sports.
“It’s easy for me to say – I didn’t lose my business like so many others and 527,000 people have lost their lives and millions of people are unemployed,” Cronin said. “One of my dad’s former point guards passed away back home a couple of days ago from (COVID-19), so it’s not over. But it’s great that we’re playing.”
Redshirt junior forward Cody Riley and redshirt sophomore guard Tyger Campbell recounted when they found out their shot at a Pac-12 title was shut down last season, as the two were glued to the TV and Twitter to find out what was going to happen next.
The NCAA tournament was ultimately canceled later that same day, meaning neither player has been to March Madness sporting blue and gold. In fact, no player on UCLA’s roster – outside of senior guard Chris Smith, who tore his ACL in December – has played in an NCAA tournament, but Campbell said the Bruins will be relying on Cronin’s experience to get them to Indiana.
“I want to get to an NCAA tournament for coach – coach has been there so many times so he’s gonna help us get there,” Campbell said. “This is a time of the season where we really, really just got to listen to him. He’s been there, he’s gotten there and he’s thrived.”
Cronin made the NCAA tournament in each of his final nine seasons at Cincinnati, but in order to get back there next week, his squad may have to take care of business out West first.
ESPN and Fox Sports currently have UCLA slotted in as a No. 10 seed, while CBS has it on the bubble as a No. 11 seed. Thursday’s game against the Beavers could be a “win and you’re in” scenario for the Bruins, but Cronin said the simplest way to cement a trip to March Madness is earning the Pac-12’s automatic bid by winning the conference tournament.
“I don’t look at it like, ‘Well, we’ve got to win Thursday to secure a bid,'” Cronin said. “I look at it like, ‘We’re going up there to try to win the tournament.'”
UCLA already beat Oregon State earlier this season, grinding out a 57-52 victory Jan. 30 at Pauley Pavilion en route to an 11-1 record at home on the season. Riley was the only Bruin to score in double figures that game, while Beaver guard Ethan Thompson was the only one to accomplish the feat for his team.
Cronin said Thompson and guard Jarod Lucas – who UCLA limited to six points on 2-of-7 shooting in January – were the biggest threats from Oregon State’s offense, as the two combined to average 27.6 points per game during conference play.
Riley said he was looking forward to matching up with the Beavers again, as well as the other opponents down the line who beat the Bruins in the regular season.
“Even when we played Oregon State, … it was a pretty close game and we just came out with the victory, so to play that game again, it’s gonna be fun,” Riley said. “To compete against teams that we lost against in the past is also going to be fun, kind of like revenge.”
UCLA will have a chance to reassert its place above Oregon State on Thursday at 2:30 p.m., with a win sending the Bruins to their first Pac-12 semifinals since 2018.
Pac-12 announces regular-season awards
Campbell was named to the First Team All-Pac-12 on Tuesday, with sophomore guard Johnny Juzang and sophomore guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. both making the Second Team.
The Bruin point guard said he found out he was named one of the conference’s top-10 players when he saw texts from his dad and brother at the end of Tuesday’s practice.
“Some family members had texted me, so that was pretty good,” Campbell said. “But I’m just thankful, I couldn’t have done it without the team helping me.”
Campbell averaged 10.6 points, 5.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game this season, starting all 25 of UCLA’s games and finishing second in the conference in assists per game.
Juzang led the team with 14.2 points per game and 39 3-pointers made, while Jaquez – who also earned Pac-12 All-Defensive Team honors on Tuesday – finished the regular season with more total points, rebounds and blocks than any other Bruin.
UCLA led the Pac-12 with three players on the two all-conference teams.