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UCLA climbs to No. 6 in AP poll but struggles for traction in NCAA tournament projections

UCLA guard Bryce Alford, left, and forward Ike Anigbogu defend against Oregon's Payton Pritchard on Feb. 9.
(Mark J. Terrill / AP)

UCLA continues to fare better with Associated Press poll voters than those who are projecting NCAA tournament seedings.

The Bruins climbed four spots to No. 6 in the AP rankings on Monday but have remained inert in postseason prognostications despite winning four consecutive games.

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The NCAA tournament selection committee deemed UCLA worthy of a No. 4 seeding (and placed it 15th out of the top 16 teams) in its sneak peek of the brackets Saturday, two days after the Bruins beat Oregon to give them two victories over top 5 teams. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi also gave the Bruins a No. 4 seeding Monday after they had beaten Oregon State the previous day to improve to 23-3 overall and 10-3 in the Pac-12 Conference.

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UCLA Coach Steve Alford pointed out Sunday that his team’s resume compared favorably with a few teams projected to receive better seedings. The Bruins have fewer losses than Louisville, Florida State, Oregon and North Carolina — all ranked behind them in the AP poll but projected to receive No. 2 seedings by the NCAA tournament selection committee as of Saturday.

The Bruins can only hope that Mark Hollis, chairman of the NCAA tournament selection committee, really does start over after crumpling up his mock bracket on national television Saturday in a symbolic gesture.

“We’ve been a top-10 team really all year long,” Alford said Sunday. “After [beating] Kentucky, which was early December, we’ve only been out of the top 10 once and so our guys have done a lot of good things, but where we get seeded, you know what, we can only control so much.

“There’s so much parity in college basketball and I think those 16 teams that you see, there will be teams not in that on Selection Sunday on those lines and there will be guys that are third and fourth line that could move up, could move out. There’s so much basketball to be played in the next three to four weeks before we get to that point.”

Said UCLA shooting guard Bryce Alford: “If anything, it just shows that we’ve got work to do and we can’t be satisfied with where we’re at. We’ve got a big-time record, we’ve done a great job through our first 26 games. Being 23-3, that’s not an easy thing to do and so I think if anything, it just shows that we have work to do and if anything it probably motivated us a little bit being 15 out of 16 on that list.”

The silver lining for UCLA is that it probably has all but secured opening the NCAA tournament in Sacramento as part of the pod system that tries to place teams who fared well during the regular season as close to home as possible. The Bruins could play their first two games in Sacramento even if they were placed in the East Regional, which will host its semifinal and final games in Madison Square Garden in New York.

There also remains the possibility that the Bruins could play all of their games prior to the Final Four in California if their seeding rose appreciably because the West Regional semifinal and final will be played in San Jose. UCLA has five games remaining before the Pac-12 tournament.

“I like what we’ve done,” Steve Alford said, “[but] we’ve got to continue to work.”

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ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch


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