UCLA makes long-awaited climb in NCAA tournament bracket projections


UCLA finally enjoyed some upward mobility in both the Associated Press poll and NCAA tournament bracket projections Monday in the wake of its impressive road victory over Arizona.

The Bruins (26-3 overall, 13-3 Pac-12 Conference) rose to a No. 2 seeding in the South Regional, according to CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi deemed UCLA as worthy of a No. 3 seeding, also in the South.

UCLA had remained stuck on a No. 4 seeding in most projections for more than two weeks after the NCAA tournament selection committee revealed that’s where it would have slotted the Bruins on Feb. 11.


UCLA also climbed two spots to No. 3 in the AP poll, the highest ranking of any Pac-12 Conference school. Arizona fell to No. 7 after the Bruins ended their 21-game winning streak at the McKale Center on Saturday. Oregon, tied with the Wildcats atop the Pac-12 standings, is ranked No. 6.

UCLA could make a strong case that it would be slighted with a No. 3 seeding. The Bruins have fewer losses than each of the teams Lunardi projected to receive a No. 2 seeding — Louisville, Kentucky, Oregon and Baylor — and defeated the Wildcats on their home court in December.

Doubts about UCLA’s defense appear to be the one blemish on an otherwise sparkling resume that includes being the nation’s most efficient offense.

“Everybody wants to talk about our defense, but the bottom line [is] we’re a really good basketball team,” UCLA Coach Steve Alford said after his team beat Arizona to move within 1 1/2 games of the Wildcats and Oregon. “There are teams out there that aren’t close to what we are offensively that nobody wants to talk about their offense, but I get it.

“But I really, honestly believe we have improved at that end over this month of February.”

The Bruins have allowed an average of only 71.6 points per game this month, four points better than their season average.

Confidence certainly isn’t an issue for a team that has won seven consecutive games and appears on the upswing all the way around.

“We’re top five in the country and going into every game thinking we can win,” freshman point guard Lonzo Ball said.

Twitter: @latbbolch