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UCLA needs rivalry win to boost NCAA Tournament chances

By in Press Enterprise on February 2, 2018

By Thuc Nhi Nguyen

LOS ANGELES — Aaron Holiday acknowledges that UCLA’s rivalry game against USC on Friday is a special game. But it has nothing to do with bragging rights.

“The only reason it would be special is because we have to get this win,” the senior point guard said. “That would put us in a great position moving forward, so I’m not really worried that it’s against USC, I’m just worried about getting the win.”

The Bruins, currently on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, have a chance to get a valuable win when USC visits Pauley Pavilion on Saturday at 3 p.m. for the first of two regular-season meetings between the crosstown rivals this year.

It’s the first of a key three-game stretch that could decide UCLA’s NCAA fate. Next weekend, the Bruins travel to No. 9 Arizona and No. 25 Arizona State, the only two ranked teams in the Pac-12.

Neither ESPN’s Joe Lunardi nor CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm have UCLA in their latest NCAA Tournament projections. Lunardi has the Bruins as a “next four out” team.

UCLA (15-7, 6-4 Pac-12) is fourth in the Pac-12 with its best victory this season coming in New Orleans against then-No. 7 Kentucky. The next best results for the Bruins are home wins against Washington and Utah, two teams with RPIs in the top 50 but who are also on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament.

USC (17-6, 8-2 Pac-12) is second in the Pac-12 with a six-game winning streak. UCLA head coach Steve Alford conceded that the Trojans are one of two teams in the conference, along with Arizona, with “superior talent.”

“They’ve got guys that can pass, shoot and dribble it and they’re very athletic to go with that, so they’ve got a lot of weapons offensively,” Alford […]    

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