Men’s basketball Pac-12 tournament predictions
Members of No. 13 UCLA men’s basketball sit on the bench during a loss to No. 21 USC on Feb. 12. The Bruins will enter the Pac-12 tournament as the conference’s No. 2 seed and have the chance to match up versus the No. 3 seed Trojans on Friday. (Ashley Kenney/Photo editor)
By Jon Christon, Kyle Boal, and Jared Tay
March 10, 2022 12:50 a.m.
March is upon No. 13 UCLA men’s basketball (23-6, 15-5 Pac-12), which will enter the Pac-12 tournament as the conference’s No. 2 seed. The blue and gold will begin the tournament with a quarterfinal matchup against No. 7 seed Washington State (19-13, 11-9) on Thursday followed by a potential semifinal contest against crosstown rival No. 3 seed USC (25-6, 14-6) on Friday. Here are Daily Bruin staffers’ takes on how far the Bruins will go.
Prediction: Lose to USC in semifinals
Don’t get me wrong, UCLA has the talent to win this whole thing.
The Bruins have already beaten all but one team in the conference this year and have the most postseason experience in the Pac-12.
However, like a reigning NBA champion sleepwalking its way through the ensuing regular season, UCLA has little motivation to put it all on the line until it gets back to the biggest stage.
The conference tournament is not the Bruins’ end goal – the NCAA tournament is.
UCLA has already locked up a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, and is justly prioritizing the physical and mental well-being of its student-athletes ahead of the stretch run.
For a team a few weeks removed from a six-game, 12-day stretch, extra rest days after an early exit wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Just ask the 2021 version of the Bruins, who lost their opening-round game before embarking on the program’s longest NCAA tournament run of the past decade.
We’ve seen the team lack competitive fire throughout the season, particularly away from its home crowd.
Inside the friendly confines of Westwood, UCLA is a lofty 14-1, averaging 81.7 points per game while defeating its opponents by an average margin of 19.8 points per game in wins. But in contests away from home, the Bruins are 9-5 and average only 71.4 points per game.
Motivated or not, this team can beat Washington State with ease, even on the road.
But it won’t hold that same luxury with a potential semifinal rubber match against USC.
Daily Bruin senior staff
Prediction: Pac-12 champions
So that means madness.
As UCLA prepares for the Pac-12 tournament, one thing certainly lingers on its mind – last season’s abject failure and exit to Oregon State. With the Bruins’ defeat a year ago, the conference tournament has featured an upset to at least one top-four seed in the quarterfinals each year it’s been completed since 2017.
This year will be no different. But unlike last year, it won’t be UCLA being upset.
Across town lurk the Trojans, a team that hasn’t won a basketball game by more than three points since mid-February. As my colleagues predict, a UCLA win over Washington State should lead to the third edition of the crosstown showdown, this time on a neutral site.
But, in the famous words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend.”
Entering the tournament having lost by 20 to Arizona and suffering its first defeat to UCLA during the Mick Cronin era, USC will put up a stinker and be upset before ever meeting head-to-head with the Bruins.
In all likelihood, barring any other upsets, T-Mobile Arena will be home to the third matchup between top-seeded Arizona and UCLA. The teams split a pair of games this season, each winning on their home court.
The recipe is simple. The Bruins are 15-0 this season holding opponents under 65 while the Wildcats are 0-2 when scoring under 65 points – including UCLA’s 75-59 victory over Arizona earlier this year.
The road to a Pac-12 tournament title is not easy, but with a little bit of help from Washington, it should be that much easier for the Bruins to lock in their spot in the NCAA tournament.
Daily Bruin senior staff
Prediction: Lose to Arizona in finals
Go ahead and call me basic.
With this prediction, I’m taking the easy way out, with no upsets for or against the Bruins during their time in Las Vegas.
It’s been a roller-coaster season for the blue and gold. UCLA has hit high points – a top-five win over then-No. 4 Villanova in November and a big-time upset of then-No. 3 Arizona in January. It has also had its fair share of low points, losing to Arizona State in Tempe and being swept yet again by Oregon.
Personnel-wise, injuries have littered the Bruins’ season, from redshirt senior forward Cody Riley’s MCL sprain to sophomore guard Jaylen Clark’s concussions. Junior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. played much of the second half of the season with hurt ankles, and junior guard Johnny Juzang missed two of the last three games because of ankle issues.
Despite the peaks and valleys, the Bruins’ last outings have shown me that the ship is steadying just in time for March.
Their defense has looked solid for the past two weeks. In their last regular-season game against USC, they hustled, clogged passing lanes and forced turnovers. Redshirt senior center Myles Johnson looked like a different player from two months ago, his length disrupting offenses that try to feed the post.
Clark has turned in a number of stellar performances, both offensively and defensively. Jaquez’s last two outings have been some of his best. Senior guard Jules Bernard, after struggling for much of February, was UCLA’s second-leading scorer against the Trojans. Although coach Mick Cronin said Juzang isn’t back at full strength, the five-day stretch between the Bruins’ meeting with the Trojans and their first game in Las Vegas will only help the junior.
UCLA is good enough to beat Washington State.
Here’s where I’ll take the best of both worlds from Jon and Kyle’s predictions: UCLA is good enough to beat USC without a home crowd, provided it doesn’t get outscored by double digits in the paint like it did in the schools’ first two meetings.
But the blue and gold won’t be able to beat Arizona without a packed Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins will miss out on a 32nd conference championship but will be in a good position to make a deep run in the Big Dance.
And that’s what really matters.