With four games left, UCLA basketball head coach Cori Close has to navigate a rocky path to a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. With the way she has been coaching up her squad, that might not be a problem.
The UCLA basketball women’s team has been playing with some flare lately and that has a lot to do with how head coach Cori Close is managing this team. Her efforts have given the Bruins a push through the Pac-12 portion of this schedule which could help them get a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament.
The Bruins have been surprising many with their uptempo offense and solid defense as Michaela Onyenwere, Kennedy Burke, and Japreece Dean are leading the way.
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After an underwhelming non-conference schedule, the Bruins have put their foot on the gas during Pac-12 play which has them making a move up the standings. At this point, the regular season championship is out of the question, but they can still fight for that fourth spot in the tourney.
As it stands, #2 Oregon (13-1), #7 Stanford (11-3), and #12 Oregon State (11-3) have locked up the top three spots. #17 Arizona State (9-4) follows them, with the Bruins (9-5) only a half a game back.
Over the weekend, UCLA had a tough homestand against the Bay Area schools. UCLA fell to Stanford but got the win over Cal. The loss to the Cardinal actually knocked them out of fourth place, but the win has kept them in the hunt and there is still a chance for the Bruins to get back into that final first-round bye.
In order to capture that fourth place spot, UCLA (who along with ASU has four remaining games left), needs to win one more than the Sun Devils. Now, here is the rub. One of Arizona State’s games was canceled when inclement weather disrupted their contest before their bout with Washington.
- UCLA: Feb 22 at Oregon, Feb 24 at Oregon State, Mar 1 vs Utah, Mar 3 vs Colorado
- ASU: Feb 22 at Cal, Feb 24 at Stanford, Mar 1 vs Oregon State, Mar 3 vs Oregon
If UCLA was to finish with the same conference record as ASU, UCLA would get the 4th place spot as they hold the tie-breaker after beating the Sun Devils, 61-59.
But since Arizona State has one less loss, the Bruins have to win one more game. It is unfair, but it is not impossible. The Sun Devils have the harder path in these final four games as they face all three of the Pac-12’s top teams while UCLA only meets two of them. For example, If both teams lose in their games against Oregon, Oregon State, and Stanford (because all three of these teams are some of the best in the nation), then UCLA goes 2-2 and ASU 1-3, with the Bruins finishing 11-7 and the Devils 10-7.
And it is not out of the question for UCLA to beat at least one of the Oregon schools. The way Close has managed games, especially on the road, she has kept the Bruins competitive and fighting to the final buzzer. In their game at Stanford, UCLA was neck and neck with the Cardinal, even though they succumbed to an 86-80 loss. Two days prior, the Bruins beat #18 Cal.
The win over ASU back on January 25 was in Tempe, giving them another big road win. And just over a week ago, UCLA took down #17 Utah in the SLC. For the season, UCLA is 6-1 on the road. This is due to the fact that Close keeps her players engaged, she makes the necessary changes and has instilled in the Bruins to never give up.
Behind this leadership, the Bruins have been making a lot of noise and will take that fire into the Pac-12 Tournament. It did not start off as planned, but the Bruins have finally found their groove and just at the perfect time.