Norman Powell knows his days at UCLA could be numbered.
The Bruins’ NCAA tournament chances are uncertain. Powell, the team’s only senior in the regular rotation, will play his final two games at Pauley Pavilion on Sunday and Wednesday, against Washington State and USC. Anything past that, and the Pac-12 tournament, is unknown.
But Powell sees a path forward into the NCAA tournament, and his teammates say they are optimistic about their chances.
“That’s what’s so great right now,” Powell said after Wednesday night’s 88-66 win over Washington. “We control our own destiny. If we go into the next couple of games with the same sense of urgency we had today, we’re going to take care of things, and it’s not going to be a problem. The guys are doing a great job of believing in the team and believing in one another, and when we do that, you can see that we’re a great team.”
NCAA tournament prognosticators are split about UCLA’s status heading into the final two games of the season. CBS Sports and USA Today both predict UCLA will be among the first teams left out of the field. ESPN projects UCLA as the second-to-last at-large bid in the field, but even in that scenario, the Bruins can still be bumped by upsets in the conference tournaments.
With two regular-season games left against the bottom two teams in the Pac-12, UCLA can’t do much more to boost its chances. It can only avoid a resume-imploding loss.
That puts extra emphasis on the Pac-12 tournament, and UCLA is still playing to improve its seeding. UCLA is currently fifth in the conference standings, which would mean playing USC, for the second game in a row, in the first round of the tournament. USC would clinch the bottom seed with another loss or a Washington win. Washington plays at USC on Saturday night.
The top four seeds receive byes, and UCLA is half a game behind Stanford, which has games against Oregon, Arizona State and Arizona remaining.
“Really, we’ve just got to win,” center Tony Parker said. “It doesn’t matter how we do it. That’s the bottom line. Either we win or we lose. I don’t think about style points. All that really doesn’t matter. We’ve just got to win.”
UCLA VS. WASHINGTON STATE
When: 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Pauley Pavilion.
On the air: TV: Fox Sports 1; Radio: 570.
Records: UCLA 17-12, 9-7 in Pac-12; Washington State 12-15, 6-9.
Update: The Bruins have two games remaining at home to complete a perfect home record in Pac-12 play and improve their case for the NCAA tournament. UCLA has a few bright spots on its resume. According to basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy, UCLA has played the 13th-most difficult schedule in the nation, which is top in the conference. The Bruins have played six games against the Associated Press top 15. The Cougars won’t boost either of those figures. Washington State is tied for eighth in the conference and has lost eight of its last 11 games.