Have winning record, will travel: UCLA considers bowl choices

It’s time to ponder holiday destinations.

Las Vegas? San Diego? El Paso?

UCLA will have a significant say in where it ends up after clinching bowl eligibility for the first time since 2017 with a 44-20 romp over Colorado on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.

“It’s a real special moment, especially for the seniors, right?” Bruins safety Quentin Lake said after the game. “We’ve been through trials and tribulations for the last four years, so it’s fun to kind of really relish in all the work that you put in.”

The only place the Bruins (6-4 overall, 4-3 Pac-12) won’t be going is back to their home stadium for the Rose Bowl game. Utah ended that possibility by eliminating UCLA from Pac-12 South contention earlier Saturday with a victory over Arizona.

Like conference officials, the Bruins will be rooting for Oregon to make the College Football Playoff because that would ensure the team that loses to the Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game goes to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. Every other bowl-eligible team would get a one-spot bump in the pecking order as a result.

Bowl prognosticator Jerry Palm projects Oregon to miss the CFP because he’s factoring another loss for the Ducks into his calculations. In that scenario, Oregon would play in the Rose Bowl and Utah would drop to the Alamo Bowl, which gets the next-best pick from the Pac-12.

The Alamo, Las Vegas and Holiday bowls get their pick of Pac-12 teams if there isn’t more than a one-game difference in conference records. The Las Vegas and Holiday bowls alternate between the second and third picks on a yearly basis, with the Holiday Bowl getting the No. 2 pick in odd years, including 2021.

Palm predicts that UCLA will take that more highly coveted spot, playing No. 13 Wake Forest (9-1) in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28 at Petco Park in San Diego as part of a matchup that would surely excite Bruins fans given the Demon Deacons’ success.

“We still have stuff to play for,” UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said Saturday night. “And obviously [qualifying for] the bowl game was one of them. So now that we have that, we can check that off the list. But the work’s not done. We still got to play the last two games.”

Starting with the Sun Bowl, which gets the No. 4 team from the Pac-12, the selections are based solely on conference record. The Sun Bowl’s Pac-12 participant will face an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent on New Year’s Eve in El Paso. The inaugural Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl goes next, matching the No. 5 team from the Pac-12 against a Mountain West Conference opponent on Dec. 18 at SoFi Stadium.

There’s one final spot for a Pac-12 team in one of the ESPN bowls — Gasparilla, First Responders and Armed Forces — that will be filled by a pool of at least five conferences.

UCLA sits alone in third place in the Pac-12 South, one game behind Arizona State and two games behind Utah. The Bruins have the easiest remaining schedule, with games against USC (4-5, 3-4) next weekend at the Coliseum and COVID-19-ravaged California (3-6, 2-4) on Nov. 27 at the Rose Bowl.

Utah hosts fourth-ranked Oregon and Colorado in its final regular-season games, and Arizona State plays at Oregon State before hosting Arizona.

In the Pac-12 North, Oregon State and Washington State are tied for second place, two games behind Oregon.

UCLA has not appeared in a bowl game since losing 35-17 to Kansas State in the Cactus Bowl in December 2017. The Bruins have lost their two most recent appearances in a bowl, last prevailing with a 40-35 victory over Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2, 2015.

“I think it’s just a part of just working toward rebuilding the program,” Thompson-Robinson said of UCLA’s first postseason appearance in four years. “You know you want to get to a foundation, something that you can build up on as a program as a whole and I think a bowl game is definitely that.”

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Arizona vs. UCLA final score: Wildcats unravel in second half for fifth straight loss to Bruins

At halftime of Thursday’s game, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi said that Arizona would currently be one of the last few teams in the NCAA Tournament field if it were eligible, adding that a win at UCLA would theoretically go a long way toward ensuring the Wildcats made it.

In reality, though, the UA’s season is nearly over, and this latest result is a strong indication the team is ready to be done.

Arizona (14-8, 8-8 Pac-12) was outscored 44-29 in the second half, allowing UCLA to shoot 73 percent after halftime in a 74-60 win at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood, Calif.

It was the fifth consecutive loss against the Bruins (15-5, 11-3) for the UA, which has dropped two in a row and five of seven overall.

James Akinjo had 21 points and Azuolas Tubelis added 18, that duo making 14 of 26 shots. The rest of the Wildcats were 7 of 24, and three of those makes were from Terrell Brown Jr., as starters Bennedict Mathurin, Kerr Kriisa and Christian Koloko only took seven total shots (making three).

Arizona shot 42 percent, was 4 of 16 from 3 and turned it over 16 times, a game after having just five turnovers in the home loss to Oregon. The Wildcats had a 20-9 edge in free throw attempts but missed six, unable to use their propensity to get to the line to their advantage.

Up a point at halftime, Arizona turned it over three times in the first four minutes after giving it away eight times in the first half. That, combined with UCLA making nine of its first 10 shots and going on a 9-0 run, enabled the Bruins to lead 49-39 with 12:04 to go.

Arizona missed seven straight shots before Jordan Brown hit a hook shot with 10:08 to go, and after Akinjo hit a 3 with 6:58 left the Wildcats were only down 55-49.

The Wildcats were within five when Kriisa was called for a travel at midcourt, one of a seemingly endless supply of walks called in the game, and UCLA responded with a Tyger Campbell 3-pointer to make it 58-50 with 5:54 remaining.

Arizona got as close as 58-52 when Akinjo was fouled on a 3 and made 2 of 3 free throws with 5:46 left, but made its next five shots to pull away.

Arizona jumped out to a 10-2 start, a reversal of recent slow starts against Oregon and Colorado, and trailed for only a minute in the first half. The Wildcats started 11 of 19 from the field, with back-to-back 3s by Akinjo and Kriisa gave them a 27-20 edge with 6:59 left.

The UA then went more than five minutes without scoring, allowing UCLA to take a 28-27 lead on a Jaime Jaquez jumper with 2:12 left. Jacquez finished with 25, making 10 of 12 shots.

Tubelis’ tip-in with a minute left, Arizona’s only field goal in the final 6:58, gave it a 31-30 halftime edge.

Arizona will try to avoid another Los Angeles sweep when it visits first-place USC on Saturday. The Trojans won 87-73 in Tucson in January.

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UCLA, Long Beach State will attempt to tip it off again – Daily News

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When UCLA’s initial home opener against Long Beach State was postponed just hours before tipoff on Nov. 30, it seemed to sum up the unprecedented NCAA men’s basketball season in a nutshell. No scheduled game is safe amid the pandemic.

The game was called off, “due to an abundance of caution based on COVID-19 protocol within the LBSU program,” according to UCLA’s release that evening.

Two weeks later, the two programs will try again at 6 p.m. Tuesday night at Pauley Pavilion. The game is scheduled to be televised on Pac-12 Network.

“We were cleared to play on our side,” Long Beach State coach Dan Monson said. “But both medical staffs have to sign off on the game. We thought we were clear, but (UCLA) wasn’t comfortable with it. We’ll try again.”

The geographical nature of this matchup made it easy to re-schedule. The schools are just 33 miles apart.

“We’re all trying to fight through it. You have to be careful, you can always make games up,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said after the Bruins’ win over Cal last Sunday. “Basketball is not football, you don’t have to travel 120 people. You can play back-to-back (games) in basketball.”

Monson says his team is still a “work in progress”.

“We don’t have anything to hang our hat on yet,” said Monson. “We’ve really only been playing for 10 days now. But that’s okay, we have so much room to improve. We can’t panic because we aren’t where we want to be right now.”

Against San Francisco, Monson said his team had zero assists at halftime.

“It shows we just aren’t there yet when it comes to playing together. It doesn’t mean we’re selfish or don’t want to,” Monson said. “We just have to keep working on coming together. But there’s a lot more patience right now because everyone is going through so much more.

“Between the pandemic and Black Lives Matter, just to see what my players endure on a daily basis I’ve got way more empathy for what they’re going through than I did a year ago at this time. I’m a different coach, father and husband than I was a year ago, too.”

UCLA (5-1) is looking for its sixth straight win this season, and its seventh straight victory over Long Beach State (1-2). The Bruins lead the all-time series 17-1.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. is the leading scorer for the Bruins this season, averaging 14.8 points and six rebounds per game. Chris Smith is second on the team in scoring (13.2) and rebounds (7.0) per contest. Point guard Tyger Campbell is notching 12.5 points, 7.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game for the Bruins.

Campbell’s point guard play has been stellar. He’s averaging 34 minutes per game and committing just 1.5 turnovers a game – just nine total for the season.

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