There are several external factors that will help the UCLA basketball team lock up a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament next week, but the bottom line is that the Bruins just need to win. But is it just that easy as they play their last two regular season games on the road?
The UCLA basketball team needs to do something they haven’t done all season long if they want to secure their spot among the top four teams in the Pac-12… get a road sweep.
Now there are a few external factors that could help the Bruins land in spot 2-4 in the standings such as Arizona State losing to Arizona over the weekend or Oregon State ending up with a few losses up in Washington, but if the Bruins want to secure a first-round bye all on their own, then they have to get a road sweep.
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This might seem almost impossible as the Bruins have not been able to accomplish that feat this season. In fact, since Steve Alford took over the program six years ago, the Bruins have only had three road sweeps and all of them were in the same season, 2016-17.
What makes this feat even harder is the fact that the Bruins are taking on two teams that thoroughly handed them some tough losses when they came to Pauley Pavilion a month ago. Back on February 6, Colorado came to Westwood and dominated the Bruins which surprised everyone. Three days later, the Bruins were rolling through Utah, but the Utes overcame a 22-point deficit to get the unexpected win over the Bruins with a jaw-dropping last-second three-pointer.
Those results are not very encouraging for the Bruins, especially since they enter the lairs of the Buffaloes and Utes this week. But what is encouraging is how UCLA has performed in the last few weeks.
Two weeks ago, UCLA outlasted a very disciplined Oregon State team to get the 68-67 victory. A few days after that, the Bruins looked like they were going to be throttled by Oregon who had a 19-point lead in the second half. Much to the Ducks’ dismay, the Bruins roared back behind 27 second-half points from Jaylen Hands to get the 90-83 win.
Last week, the Bruins ran neck-and-neck with a very talented USC team and were able to strike down the Trojans in overtime in one of the best games to be played in the Pac-12 this season. Hands once again delivered an amazing performance as he hit a long three in the final minute to secure the win. It is that type of moxie and “never say die” attitude that has been emerging from these Bruins.
So if UCLA can use that momentum to get the win against Utah (who is currently tied with the Bruins) and Colorado (who is one game back of both), they will keep climbing up the standings and get that coveted first-round bye, regardless of who else wins and loses in the conference. Is this possible? You bet!
Albeit late, Hands is finally morphing into the leader the Bruins need. Kris Wilkes is playing smarter basketball and hitting key shots when the Bruins need it most. Though they have come on late, freshmen Jules Bernard and David Singleton have made a huge impact off the bench.
The team, as a whole, seems to be playing better and that is what will help these Bruins make an impact in the postseason.