After claiming the Pac-10 regular season championship, No. 13 UCLA looks to add a tournament title to its resume Thursday when it opens play against Oregon State in the Pac-10 tournament quarterfinals at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The youthful Bruins (24-6) fought off numerous injuries to finish 14-4 in the conference and claim the top seed. Five of the Bruins’ top nine players are freshman, including Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who was named Pac-10 freshman of the year Wednesday.
“We’re supposed to win,” said UCLA coach Ben Howland, who was selected as conference coach of the year. “You have to deal with adversity that’s thrown your way. You can’t say enough about our players, their toughness.”
Every scholarship player for the Bruins has suffered an injury this season, and seven players have missed a total of 80 games. UCLA’s top two players, Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo, both were injured during the season, but played through the pain.
Farmar—who averages 14.0 points and a Pac-10 leading 5.5 assists—and Afflalo, who leads the Bruins in scoring at 17.1 points, both were named to the all-conference team.
This is UCLA’s first regular-season conference title since 1997. The Bruins have won the Pac-10 tournament only once, 1987, the first year it was contested.
“I’m so happy for our guys,” said Howland, the third-year coach credited for turning around a storied program that reached national prominence under Hall of Famer John Wooden. “I’m most glad we’re Pac-10 champions. We decided it ourselves. We don’t have to wait for anybody and get in backdoor. Any time you win a championship it’s special.”
The Bruins, who have a four-game winning streak, beat the ninth-seeded Beavers (13-17) in both regular-season meetings.
After winning 20 of 22 games over Oregon State from 1992-2002, UCLA is just 5-4 against the Beavers since 2002-03.
Oregon State beat Arizona State 71-68 in the first round Wednesday. Kyle Jeffers had 20 points and nine rebounds as the Beavers rallied from a 15-point deficit, but the victory may have come at a cost.
Already missing Lamar Hurd and Nick DeWitz due to injuries, leading scorer Sasa Coic—averaging 13.9 points and 4.6 rebounds—injured his right ankle in the first half and did not return.
Oregon State has never won the Pac-10 tournament, losing in the finals to Arizona in 1988.
The Beavers beat UCLA 79-72 in the first round of last season’s tournament, the only meeting between the teams in the history of the tournament.
The winner of this game will play either Arizona or Stanford in the semifinals Friday.