Ben Howland, Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
For the first time since 2008, the UCLA Bruins are the regular season Pac-12 champions thanks to some opportunistic eleventh-hour shuffling in the conference standings.
After getting blown out of the gym by Washington State in Pullman, UCLA was gifted a second chance by virtue of first-place Oregon’s loss at Colorado on Thursday. The defeat gave the Ducks five checks in the loss column, revitalizing title hopes for the Bruins, the Cal Bears and the Arizona Wildcats.
However, UCLA’s horrid showing against the Cougars didn’t inspire much confidence for success (especially since the Bruins hadn’t lost at WSU in 19 years prior to Wednesday’s shellacking). To intentionally mince words, the UCLA fan base was a little peeved by the poor effort, and the usual calls for roster rearrangement and coaching changes abounded.
But instead of crumbling under the pressure of criticism, UCLA rose up and answered the bell, ending an 8-year losing streak to Washington at Alaska Airlines Arena. The Bruins guaranteed themselves at least a share of the Pac-12 title with their 61-54 win over the Huskies, but news from Salt Lake City would make UCLA’s day even brighter.
Roughly 20 minutes after the buzzer sounded in Seattle, Utah gave the Bruins their second break, upsetting Oregon in decisive fashion to dash the Ducks’ title aspirations. At 12-6, UO is forced to accept the three-seed despite holding the top spot for most of the season. By earning just their fifth Pac-12 win of the year, the Utes assured UCLA an outright conference crown, and the Bruins couldn’t be happier.
With the No. 1 seed in hand, UCLA will need to gear up for the Pac-12 Tournament, which begins in Las Vegas on Wednesday night. By finishing in the top-four of the conference, the Bruins earned a first-round bye and will begin competition on Thursday at 12 PM PST. Depending on tiebreak scenarios, the Bruins will face either USC, Arizona State, Washington or Stanford. All of those teams could end up tied at 9-9, so the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds are still somewhat unclear at this point.
There have been plenty of doubts for the 2012-2013 UCLA Bruins, and there’s still a lot to be learned. But one thing is for certain—UCLA is champion of the Conference of Champions.