LAS VEGAS — UCLA will battle history and a less-than-desirable matchup when it faces Arizona State on Thursday in a Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal game at the MGM Grand Arena.
The conference's regular-season champion rarely wins the tournament, and UCLA has struggled in splitting two games against the Sun Devils.
"We hope it's going to be three games in three nights, but first we have to get past our first opponent," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said Tuesday.
The Sun Devils (21-11) are a challenge. They routed the Bruins in Tempe, 78-60, in January. UCLA (23-8) needed overtime to win, 79-75, at Pauley Pavilion last month.
Arizona State players were anticipating a third chance at UCLA moments after an 89-88 overtime victory over Stanford in a first-round game Wednesday.
"I think we match up really well," said freshman guard Jahii Carson, who had a career-high 34 points against Stanford. "We have to be tougher than those guys."
The Sun Devils were tougher in Tempe. Behind center Jordan Bachynski's 22 points and 15 rebounds, they buried the Bruins early.
Most projections have Arizona State on the bubble for an NCAA tournament berth. An upset over the Pac-12 regular-season champion would help.
"It's pretty clear they have to win the tournament to go to the NCAA," Howland said. "So that's what we're going to see."
The Bruins are already a lock for the NCAA tournament. Their mandate is improving their position — in seeding and geography.
"Our goal, obviously, is to win the conference tournament," Howland said. "I think if we did that it would give us a chance to be seeded in the West."
Howland said he would rather play games close to home than have a high seeding. The NCAA West Regional will be played at Staples Center.
Only three Pac-12 regular-season champions have also won the league's postseason tournament since the conference reinstated it in 2001. UCLA did it twice, in 2006 and 2008.
"We're now in the funnest part of the year," Howland said. "We're just trying to win the next game."
UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad was named to the District IX all-freshman team, selected by the U.S. Basketball Writers Assn.