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UCLA has motivation to thrive in women's Pac-12 tournament

Bruins can count on NCAA tournament spot, but Coach Cori Close recognizes a team's need to play its best in March. USC, meanwhile, plays Oregon State on Thursday.

March 06, 2013|By Gary Klein
  • Coach Cori Close and the UCLA women's basketball team will try to use the Pac-12 Conference tournament to improve their NCAA standing.
Coach Cori Close and the UCLA women's basketball team will try to use… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

UCLA already is a lock to make the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

The 14th-ranked Bruins are assured of a bid in the 64-team field regardless of how they perform in the Pac-12 Conference tournament, which begins Thursday at KeyArena in Seattle.

But UCLA Coach Cori Close said the Bruins have plenty of motivation. "It's about playing your best basketball in March," she said.

Six-time tournament champion Stanford (28-2) is seeded first, California (27-2) second, UCLA (23-6) third and Colorado (24-5) fourth. All have first-round byes and will play Friday.

Seventh-seeded USC (10-19) plays 10th-seeded Oregon State (10-20) on Thursday in the tournament opener.

UCLA plays the winner of Thursday's game between sixth-seeded Utah (17-12) and 11th-seeded Arizona (12-17).

A UCLA victory would set up a probable matchup against Cal, which handed Stanford its only Pac-12 defeat and shared the regular-season title.

UCLA lost only four games during conference play — two to Cal and two to Stanford.

So the Bruins have their work cut out for them if they hope to improve their already solid standing with the NCAA tournament selection committee.

UCLA lost to Cal, 70-65, in January at Berkeley and by a 79-51 score last month at home. The Bruins lost at Stanford, 75-49, and were defeated by the Cardinal at home, 68-57.

Junior forward Atonye Nyingifa is averaging 11.5 points a game, fifth-year senior forward Alyssia Brewer 11.3 for the Bruins. Senior guard-forward Markel Walker is averaging 10.3 points.

Close, a former UCLA assistant and John Wooden disciple in her second season as head coach, anticipates a sense of postseason urgency from veteran players, especially seniors.

"They really want an opportunity to compete at the highest level," she said.

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein

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