UCLA basketball goes into the Pac-12 tournament as the no.3 seed with a 28-3 record on the season and a 15-3 conference record. Ironically, they are also the no.3 ranked team in the entire country. The two teams seeded higher than the Bruins, Arizona and Oregon, are both ranked lower than UCLA nationally. UCLA is seeded lower because they have three losses in the Pac-12 while Arizona and Oregon each only have two.
Despite that, UCLA should be the favorite to win the Pac-12 tournament. All three of the UCLA losses came much earlier on in the year. The Bruins lost to Oregon on a buzzer beater in December, and then lost back to back games to Arizona and USC in January. At that time, UCLA didn’t look like the best team in the Pac-12 at all. However, the Bruins have turned things around dramatically since then.
UCLA went undefeated in the month of February and they are on a streak of nine wins in a row. The biggest reason for that has been the remarkable improvement of their defense. UCLA’s defense is no longer something that people can criticize and make fun of. UCLA is only giving up 70.5 points per game in their last nine games. To put that into perspective, 76 points is the least that they have scored in a single game. If they can keep up that level of defense, the Bruins are literally impossible to beat.
The main contributor to their defensive success has been none other than Lonzo Ball. Ball isn’t just one of the best offensive players in the country, but he also uses his instincts and athleticism on the other side of the ball. Coach Alford has been using a lot of 3-2 zone lately, with Ball at the top of it. At that spot, Ball is able to use all of his skills to make it difficult for the other team to get into their offense.
Due to UCLA’s defense improving so much, the Bruins have since beaten all three teams that they lost too earlier on in the year. One of those teams, USC, is who the Bruins play later tonight in the first game of the tournament. Although UCLA lost in the first matchup, the Bruins were able to win 102-70 in the second one. USC is a tough and experienced team, but UCLA has simply too much talent and too many weapons for the Trojans to stop.
After that, UCLA will most likely play Arizona in the Semifinals. In the loss to the Wildcats, UCLA gave up 96 points, while in the win they gave up 72 points. Again, if UCLA is playing defense at the level at which they are capable of, they will win just about any game. That will be the case tonight, in the Semifinals, and in any game in the future.
UCLA winning the Pac-12 tournament would give them a major confidence boost going into March Madness, especially already being on a nine game winning streak. The last time UCLA won the Pac-12 tournament was in 2013-2014, the year the team made it to the Sweet Sixteen. If they win it this year, the Bruins are on the path to get even further.