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UCLA faces a tough path, while USC's is unclear

March 02, 2007|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

For the UCLA women's basketball team, the situation couldn't be any clearer: Win four games over the next four days to repeat as Pacific 10 Conference tournament champion or forget about a return trip to the NCAA tournament.

For USC, it's murkier.

The Trojans might need only one victory this weekend at San Jose to land a third consecutive at-large bid to the national tournament, though two would be better, of course, and three would give them the ultimate: an automatic bid.

UCLA, seeded seventh with a 13-17 record after losing its last five games, opens its title defense tonight in HP Pavilion against 10th-seeded Washington State (5-23), which has lost its last 17 games.

Fifth-seeded USC (16-12) plays fourth-seeded Washington (18-11) in a quarterfinal matchup Saturday after defeating the Huskies in the quarterfinals a year ago and splitting the regular-season series against them this season.

"Obviously, it's a big game for us to have any chance at an NCAA tournament bid," said USC Coach Mark Trakh, whose team lost at Washington in December but beat the Huskies a month later at the Galen Center. "For us to get in, we're going to have to show really well in two games."

That would mean getting past Washington, of course, and not being blown out against top-seeded Stanford, which probably would await in the semifinals.

USC, playing host to first- and second-round games in the NCAA tournament March 17 and 19, lost its first three conference games, made a strong midseason push and then lost three of its last four, all against top-25 teams -- No. 9 Arizona State, No. 25 California and No. 7 Stanford.

Shay Murphy, runner-up to California's Devanei Hampton in voting for Pac-10 player of the year and selected to the all-conference team for the second time Thursday, has kept injury-depleted USC in contention for NCAA tournament consideration. Averaging 18.1 points and 8.4 rebounds, the senior guard ranks second in the conference in scoring and rebounding.

UCLA's Noelle Quinn, named to the all-conference team for the third time, ranks among Pac-10 leaders in scoring, rebounding and assists, but the Bruins almost certainly will wind up with a losing record for the first time since the 2001-02 season.

"I don't think we've played good basketball for a solid 40 minutes yet this year," said Coach Kathy Olivier, whose team twice defeated Washington State. "I guess now's as good a time as ever."

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