NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT : UCLA Is Seeded Seventh in East : Pacific 10: Bruins, 94-78 losers to Arizona in conference title game, will play Alabama Birmingham in Atlanta.


The news wasn't all bad Sunday for UCLA, which lost to Arizona, 94-78, in the final game of the Pacific 10 Conference tournament at Arizona State's University Activity Center.

The Bruins landed an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Seeded seventh in the East Regional, UCLA will play 10th-seeded Alabama Birmingham in a first-round game Friday at the Omni in Atlanta.

Alabama Birmingham is coached by Gene Bartow, the first of the six coaches who succeeded John Wooden in Westwood. Bartow took the Bruins to the Final Four in 1976 and was 52-9 at UCLA, but resigned in 1977 after two seasons because, he said, the pressure of replacing Wooden was too great.

He was succeeded by Gary Cunningham, whose staff during a two-year tenure included UCLA's current coach, Jim Harrick.

"They probably snickered in the committee when they made that selection," Harrick said of the draw announced Sunday.

"That's probably about where we belong," Harrick said of the Bruins' seeding, "but I still think we're a little bit better club than we were a year ago. We've got a chance to surprise some people in this thing.

"I'd rather have been a fifth seed, but we didn't deserve a fifth. You could ask for better, but you could get worse, too."

Awaiting the winner of the UAB-UCLA game is expected to be second-ranked Kansas, which will play Robert Morris in the first-round.

Last year, as the seventh-seeded team in the Southeast Regional, UCLA beat Iowa State in the first round before losing to North Carolina.

Those games also were played in the Omni.

"We like Atlanta," Harrick said.

Harrick also said that he likes his counterpart at UAB.

"I just don't want to join his alumni club," he said.

Bartow said he couldn't handle the demands of the UCLA job.

"In following Coach Wooden, I found that I didn't cope with some of the distractions very well," he said Sunday from his office, where he watched videotape of the Bruins. "Even though we won big and recruited extremely well, it was still difficult and I just wasn't having a lot of fun.

"But as I've told so many people over the years, I've never regretted trying to do it and I've never regretted that I decided that it would be better to get out of that kitchen, as Harry Truman used to say.

"The heat bothered me, and I walked away from it."

Bartow, 58, founded the program at UAB in 1978.

In their third season, the Blazers beat Kentucky in the NCAA tournament to reach the round of 16 before losing to Indiana. The next season, they fell one victory short of the Final Four, beating Indiana in a second-round game and Virginia in a regional semifinal before losing to Louisville.

Bartow's teams have won three Sun Belt Conference championships and have reached the NCAA tournament eight times in the last 10 seasons, winning the conference tournament four times.

This year's bid, however, is its first in three years.

The Blazers, who placed third in the National Invitation Tournament last season, are 22-8 and won the Sun Belt championship. They lost, however, in a conference tournament semifinal to North Carolina Charlotte.

"Certainly, on given days over the last three months, we've been real good," Bartow said. "Other days, we've not been so good. But I guess that's the way most everybody has been."

The Blazers' leading scorer is Andy Kennedy, a 6-foot-8 swingman and a transfer from North Carolina State who averages 17.2 points and has made 88 of 205 three-point shots.

Last season, he made 122 of 267 three-point attempts.

"Kennedy's the best three-point shooter in the country," Harrick said. "He might not have the best percentage, but he's one of the greatest."

The Blazers also feature a 7-2, 230-pound center, Alan Ogg, who averages 10.6 points and 6.1 rebounds and is the all-time leader in the Sun Belt Conference with 264 blocked shots, including 89 this season.

Bartow uses a veteran starting lineup that includes three seniors and two juniors, but sixth man Elbert Rogers, a 6-7 sophomore forward who averages 12.1 points, is said to be the Blazers' best.

"We've got a team that, on paper, is pretty good," Bartow said.

UAB's most impressive nonconference victory was over DePaul, 74-68, last month at Rosemont, Ill. Against teams that made the NCAA tournament, the Blazers twice beat South Florida in Sun Belt Conference games, but lost in nonconference games to Arkansas, Xavier and Kansas.

The Blazers haven't played in more than a week. "That bothers me," Bartow said. "That's too long."

UCLA's players seemed to know little about the Blazers.

"The only thing I know about them is that they have an ex-UCLA coach," senior forward Trevor Wilson said.

It will be an emotional game for Bartow, he said.

"But if we were playing Northern Iowa or Minnesota, or whoever, it would be emotional," he said. "It's an NCAA tournament game."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World