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UCLA is looking to become a crowd favorite at Pauley Pavilion

UCLA head coach Mick Cronin talks with Jaime Jaquez Jr., David Singleton, guard Prince Ali and Tyger Campbell, from left, during a timeout against Colorado on Jan. 30 at Pauley Pavilion.
(Michael Owen Baker / Associated Press)

The defense is stiffening, the rotation tightening, the victories piling up.

The only thing missing is the fans.

UCLA could win the Pac-12 Conference regular-season title but is assured of setting a record low for attendance in Pauley Pavilion. Even with sellouts against Arizona State on Thursday night and Arizona on Saturday, the Bruins will finish with the lowest average attendance during their 54 seasons in the building they have called home since John Wooden was their coach.

UCLA has averaged 6,187 spectators in 15 home games, ranking seventh in the Pac-12 and less than half of Arizona’s home average of 13,697. The Bruins sold out one game, last month against USC, and are hoping for two more as part of a late-season surge that has put them back in contention for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

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It wouldn’t be enough to prevent a dubious record. If Pauley Pavilion was jammed up to its national championship banner-lined rafters and it averaged capacity crowds of 13,800 over the final two home games, the Bruins would finish the season with an average of 7,082 spectators per game, below the previous low of 7,711 during the 2014-15 season.

UCLA looks to continue its hot streak and be on the top of the Pac-12 standings when the Bruins host Arizona State on Thursday at Pauley Pavilion.

About 2,000 tickets remain for the Arizona State game and about 700 for the Arizona game, according to an athletic department spokesperson.

Coach Mick Cronin has led the push to fill seats as the Bruins (17-11, 10-5 Pac-12) prepared to face first-place Arizona State (19-8, 10-4) with at least a share of the conference lead up for grabs.

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“Bruin fans … we need you this week in a HUGE way!” Cronin tweeted Tuesday. “Let’s give our guys a homecourt advantage & get LOUD in Pauley on Thursday night! #GoBruins.”

Cronin posted those words above a link to tickets being sold for less than $30, one of several promotions intended to boost attendance. Students without a Den Pass can attend the game against Arizona State for $5, as opposed to the usual $15, and those who attend UCLA’s softball game against Texas earlier in the evening can get into the basketball game for free.

The first 400 students who show up Thursday will receive a T-shirt and laptop stickers, with a complimentary nacho bar stationed outside the student entrance before the game. One student will win Girl Scout cookies for a year.

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On Saturday, the first 1,000 students will get T-shirts and pizza, and one student with a Den Pass who has satisfied attendance benchmarks for football and basketball games will win a year of tuition valued at $13,000, provided he or she shows up to the game.

The Bruins might consider a huge crowd priceless in their bid to extend a season-high, five-game winning streak against a team that has been even hotter, Arizona State having won seven in a row.

“All ya’ll should come out, bring the noise,” junior guard Chris Smith said while standing outside Pauley Pavilion in a video posted on the team’s Twitter feed. “We’re going to feed off that energy.”

Cronin credited the fans for fueling UCLA’s comeback from a 12-point deficit in the second half against Washington this month, when the decibel level created by the crowd of 8,014 was among the loudest all season.

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“You’ve got to give them a reason to get into it,” Cronin said. “You’ve got to start getting some stops and get the ball into the basket. You’ve got to try to motivate them a little bit by the way you play, so it’s really exciting” to anticipate another big crowd.

UCLA is the hottest team in the Pac-12, and Mick Cronin’s crew needs to keep winning games to have a decent shot of making the NCAA tournament.

Attendance has not increased even as the Bruins have surged into a three-way tie alongside Colorado and Oregon for second place in the Pac-12. UCLA has won its last five home games, averaging only 5,834 spectators along the way.

“Hopefully, it will be a packed house Thursday night, that would be fun,” Cronin said. “I think our guys will really appreciate that.”

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UP NEXT FOR UCLA

VS. ARIZONA STATE

When: Thursday, 8 p.m.

Where: Pauley Pavilion.

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On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 570.

Update: Arizona State has a four-game winning streak against UCLA, its longest in a series that dates to 1949 and included the Bruins going 21-0 during the 1990s. That illustrates the matchup problems the Sun Devils present for the Bruins because of a small, speedy lineup that can spread the floor and make three-point baskets. Arizona State made 14 of 24 (53.8%) three-point shots and scored 27 fastbreak points Feb. 6 against a UCLA defense that did not include forward Jalen Hill, who sat out because of a sprained right knee. “It was just hard seeing us lose like that,” Hill said of watching from the bench.


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