UCLA to face Arizona in Pac-12 quarterfinals
When Arizona lost to Arizona State on Sunday, you could only imagine the UCLA Bruins kicking themselves about a missed opportunity in their visit to Tucson. The Bruins lost by two points at Arizona just eight days prior.
Had the Bruins come away with a win, they likely would have claimed a top four spot in the Pac-12 conference and earned a first round bye in the conference tournament. Instead, the win over the Bruins helped give Arizona the edge.
It's easy to point out the loss in Tucson, but for UCLA head coach Ben Howland, there's plenty of kicking to go around.
"I was thinking about our loss in Seattle, our loss in Eugene, our loss in Palo Alto," Howland said. "I wasn't thinking about just that specific game,"
Be that as it may, the 5th seed Bruins looked sluggish and struggled through most of their first round win over 12th seed USC, while 4th seed Arizona enjoyed their bye. The Bruins (19-13) and Wildcats (21-10) will meet on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Pacific Life Pac-12 Tournament at 2:40 p.m. on FOX Sports West.
The Bruins appear to be at full strength barring any last minute suspensions, such as Joshua Smith's on Wednesday against USC. The same can't be said about Arizona. The Wildcats will be without the services of freshman guard Josiah Turner who has been suspended indefinitely.
"I am disappointed in Josiah for his actions," said Arizona head coach Sean Miller in a statement. "Unfortunately this suspension comes at a time of great excitement and opportunity for our team. However, the standards of our program will not be compromised under any circumstances. Hopefully, Josiah will learn a valuable lesson from this experience."
This is the third time this season Turner has been suspended. He was also suspended for Arizona's overtime loss at Florida.
In two games against UCLA this season, Turner averaged 8.5 points per game, which is above his season average (6.5 ppg). Although, he did commit five turnovers in the last meeting between the two teams.
Turner being out of the lineup is something the Bruins can't focus on.
"They'll rally," Howland said. "They're coming off a tough loss against a rival school, Arizona State, and you know they're going to want to play well. I think they suspended Josiah back in November and they played very well without him. So I don't know that they're going to skip much of a beat in that respect and probably brings their guys even more unified."
A more pressing issue for the Bruins will be starting the game with a sense of urgency –something they didn't do against USC. It's a problem they feel is out of their system.
"Playing this game (against USC) to get the jitters out (helped)," UCLA guard Lazeric Jones said. "Coming out being aggressive but also being patient. I feel like we didn't come out aggressive. Basically, its' making better decisions as far as on the offensive end but luckily our defense pulled us through at the end."
Both of these teams will be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives. The loss to Arizona State likely cost the Wildcats an at-large bid, while the Bruins knew months ago their only shot at reaching the Field of 68 was to win the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.
"All of these games are win or die when you're in tournament action," Howland said. "I haven't paid attention to what the chances are for (Arizona) if they were to get beat (on Thursday), but we're concerned with ourselves."
The UCLA/Arizona winner will face the Oregon State/Washington winner, a game that takes place at noon on FOX Sports West. In the evening half of the bracket, No. 7 Stanford faces California at 6 p.m. while No. 6 Colorado plays No. 3 Oregon at 8:30 p.m.