Win or go home. From here on out, that's the motto for a UCLA program hoping to make a prolonged postseason run during the NCAA Tournament. When the brackets for the Big Dance were announced Sunday, however, the selection committee did not make the path to a title easy.
There will be many tests along the way for the No. 6 seeded Bruins, rest assured, beginning with a first-round game in the South Region against No. 11 Minnesota in Austin, Tex., on Friday. Provided they get past the initial challenge, a second-round showdown with No. 3 Florida looms large.
Looking beyond that point seems a bit unreasonable. At least, at this stage of the game. Coach Ben Howland & Co. have plenty to work to do beforehand, there's no question about it.
“I’d rather be closer,” Howland said during Sunday's news conference after learning about the perceived difficult draw facing the Bruins (25-9 overall record). Keep in mind, they did take home the Pac-12 Conference regular-season title and advance to the conference tournament championship.
UCLA could have been placed in the West Region. Instead, Arizona (25-7) was awarded a No. 6 seed after losing to the Bruins on three separate occasions this past season. The Wildcats have a chance to play in the West Regional finals at Staples Center in Los Angeles on March 28 and 30.
A spot in the Midwest Region was an option for UCLA. However, Oregon (26-8) received a No. 12 seed and a first-round game in San Jose, Calif. To make matters worse, Cal (20-11) was shipped to the East Region but will benefit from an having opening-round game in its backyard, San Jose.
“I’d rather be Cal right now playing in San Jose. I’d rather be a No. 12 seed playing in San Jose.'' Howland said. “The seedings were really disappointing. Our conference has a chance to do something good in the tournament. Now we pull for everybody in the Pac-12. We need to gain some respect.''
That's easier said than done, apparently.
Respect needs to be earned. Not given.
Things won't be easy for UCLA considering Jordan Adams broke his foot this past weekend. Averaging 15.3 points per game, the freshman was in the midst of a breakout campaign after being recognized as the nation's No. 65 player for the Class of 2012 in the 247Sports Composite Rankings.
All, however, is not lost. Far from it.
Shabazz Muhammad is in the mix, of course. The country's No. 2 player in the 247Sports Composite Rankings for the Class of 2012, the college rookie averages 17.8 points per game. “It’s disappointing. We really worked hard this year, and to really punish us, is to not be in the West,” he said.
There you have it, the Bruins are obviously not happy with how things worked out. March Madness awaits, nevertheless. Along the opportunity to prove the selection committee wrong.
Sean Ceglinsky has covered prep and college sports on the West Coast for the better part of the past 15-plus years. Follow him on twitter: @SeanCeglinsky
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