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WOMEN'S BASKETBALL MIKE TERRY

UCLA Is a Surprise and a Longshot Too

March 06, 2003|MIKE TERRY

UCLA had two reasons to expect a good 2002-03 season.

Michelle Greco was returning after sitting out a year on the advice of the UCLA medical staff.

And a promising freshman class was headed to Westwood, led by high school All-American guard Nikki Blue.

But even with Greco in position to win a second Pacific 10 Conference scoring title and Blue living up to expectations, there's no way the Bruins had penciled in 17 victories this season -- or two more wins than they had in the last two seasons combined.

The question now is where do they go after this week's Pac-10 tournament?

It appears the conference can plan on Stanford, Washington and Arizona going to the NCAA tournament.

Each has at least 20 wins and is ranked in the top 25.

UCLA, which finished fourth in the Pac-10, is the only other team with more wins than losses in conference play. Besides Stanford, Washington and Arizona, the Bruins and Oregon State are the only other Pac-10 teams above .500 overall. In addition, the Bruins have beaten Washington and Arizona.

That should put UCLA in contention for, if nothing else, a berth in the Women's NIT.

Coach Kathy Olivier said the Bruins should be thinking of an NCAA tournament at-large bid -- unless, of course, they win the conference tournament and get the automatic bid.

But 17 wins are not going to get the Bruins into the NCAA tournament.

Not with a high RPI number (72) and only one victory in five games against a top 25 team.

"It's important for us to make it to at least 18 wins," Olivier said. "The seniors have talked about going to the [NCAA] tournament all summer. They worked to a point where they won't settle for anything less.

"We feel like 18 wins is a very good number. Nineteen would be a reality. But we're fourth in the Pac-10; the Pac-10 has been a good conference this year. And there should be four teams from the Pac-10 going to the tournament."

For 18 wins, the Bruins must beat an Oregon team they have already defeated twice. Should they get past the Ducks, win No. 19 would probably have to come against ninth-ranked Stanford, which beat UCLA twice.

Meaning it won't be easy.

"That's what the tournament is all about," Olivier said. "You beat up on each other during the conference season. Now it's about a different approach."

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Few Southland teams will be offered postseason tournament bids.

From the West Coast, No. 19 UC Santa Barbara appears to be the only other lock for an NCAA bid after Stanford. But the Gauchos could have a jaundiced eye cast their way by the NCAA selection committee if they flop in the Big West tournament.

Pepperdine has battled through injuries to reach 20 wins for the sixth consecutive season and win the West Coast Conference regular-season championship. Its only two conference losses were to San Francisco.

It's not unusual for two WCC teams to get NCAA bids. But that may not happen this season, with the ACC, Big Ten, Big East and Big 12 conferences expected to scoop up most of the 2003 tournament invitations. The only way the Waves can be sure to make the field of 64 is win the WCC tournament.

The only way USC can reach the NCAA tournament is to win the Pac-10 tournament. The WNIT does not take below-.500 teams, and the Trojans are 13-16.

Likewise, Irvine (Big West) Long Beach (Big West) and Loyola Marymount (WCC) need to win their respective conference tournaments to make the NCAA field. However, Irvine, with 16 wins, could draw some WNIT interest.

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Lost in the Bruins' win over Oregon Saturday was the three-point basket by junior forward Jamila Veasley.

Not only was it the first three-pointer Veasley has made, it was the first three-pointer she had attempted in her three college seasons.

And it wasn't one of those fling-it-at-the-basket shots that come at the end of the half or the game.

Veasley's shot came late in the second half as the Bruins rallied from a 13-point deficit to win.

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