No. 8 UCLA picked to win Pac-12 in preseason poll

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No. 8 UCLA has been picked to win the Pac-12.

The Bruins received 26 first-place votes from a 33-person media panel in the poll. No. 17 Arizona, No. 21 Oregon, Southern California and Stanford rounded out the top five. The Wildcats and Ducks each received three first-place votes and the Cardinal one.

UCLA has four of its top seven scorers back from a team that finished runner-up in the Pac-12 and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last season. The Bruins also added a stellar freshman class, headed by Amari Bailey and Adem Bona, both top-20 recruits.

Arizona won the Pac-12 last season, its first under coach Tommy Lloyd, and also reached the Sweet 16. The Wildcats lost three players to the NBA for the second straight season, but have a strong core returning and added several veterans who should contribute right away.

Oregon is looking to return to the NCAA Tournament after struggling defensively last season. The Ducks added several transfers and 7-foot freshman Kel’el Ware, one of the top recruits in the 2022 recruiting class.

Pac-12 facing uncertain future after losses to Big Ten

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
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The Pac-12 can make a case as the most successful conference in collegiate athletics, amassing more than 500 NCAA championships while leading the nation in titles 56 of the past 62 years.

But when it comes to the biggest moneymakers, football and men’s basketball, the “Conference of Champions” has come up short for years.

The lack of success, particularly in football, combined with the conference’s media rights missteps have put the Pac-12 on shaky financial footing, opening the door for two of its marquee schools to jump ship.

Now, with the loss of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten in 2024, the conference and its remaining member schools face an even more uncertain economic future.

“You have exploding costs on one end and your revenue sources are being decimated, which is a tremendous pressure,” Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist said. “On the other hand, what do you do? Well, something pretty radical I think is going to have to happen.”

The Pac-12’s dilemma has been building for years.

Once a powerhouse football conference, the Pac-12 has been a bit player in the national championship conversation of late.

Since Oregon was blown out by Ohio State in the 2015 championship game, the Pac-12 has had one team play in the College Football Playoff: Washington in 2017. Oregon has fallen off since Chip Kelly left for the NFL in 2013 and Southern California, once the conference’s marquee program, never fully got back on track after the NCAA sanctions of the Pete Carroll era.

The Pac-12 has been just as quiet in men’s basketball, getting two teams – Oregon in 2017 and UCLA in 2021 – through to the Final Four.

The lack of success made the Pac-12’s football games maybe-watch TV, which in turn has made it more difficult to lure top coaches and recruits away from rival conferences – particularly the football juggernaut SEC.

“In the old days, USC and UCLA would be right up there at the top of the national football heap every year, and they’ve fallen way down,” Zimbalist said. “And so you need some fill up, some boost to get them to a point where they can really be a strong, strong franchise again – and I just don’t see that.”

The Pac-12 drop-off was compounded by its media rights deals.

As TV packages began to bulge, former Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott pushed for the conference to build its own network instead of partnering with ESPN, Fox or another network. A self-sustained network would allow the Pac-12 to control programming, showcase its highly successful Olympic sports and reap all the financial rewards.

The Pac-12 Networks never soared like Scott envisioned, bogged down, in part, by an inability to reach an agreement with DirecTV, which prevented the conference’s sports from reaching millions of homes.

The Pac-12 did work out a lucrative deal to have some of its games shown on ESPN and Fox, but the networks often wanted those to fill late-night time slots on the East Coast.

The deals left the conference in a “Pac-12 After Dark” hole. The Pac-12 had the lowest distribution number among Power Five schools, paying its member institutions $19.8 million in 2021.

By contrast, the SEC distributed $54.6 million to each of its member schools in 2021 and the Big Ten $46.1 million.

Finances mean stability in the world of college sports, so the lure of more money was a big driver in the departures of USC and UCLA, which said it faced cutting sports if it didn’t leave for the Big Ten.

The moves in turn will hurt the Pac-12’s bottom line; not only did the conference lose two big programs, its foothold in the nation’s second-largest media market is going away.

“When you see the rich get richer, people are going to grab for their share,” said Tom McMillen, president and CEO of Lead1, which represents Football Bowl Subdivision athletic directors and programs.

The loss of UCLA and USC puts the Pac-12 at a crossroads.

The conference announced last week that it is pursuing all expansion avenues and pushed up negotiations for its next media rights deal; the current one is set to end in 2024.

The Pac-12 could form a partnership with another conference in need of a lift, like the ACC, which would possibly cause travel problems for smaller sports. It also could add members from a smaller conference like the Mountain West or convince schools from the Big 12 to defect, like Colorado and Utah did in 2011.

The conference also may have its hand forced if several schools bolt for another conference to find stability, perhaps to the Big 12 to form another superconference with the SEC and Big Ten.

“I think you’ll see more consolidation,” McMillen said. “This is not new. This is economics 101. There’s a lot of efficiencies. Think about all this: we have 32 conferences. There’s probably $1 billion of overhead and when you merge conferences, you’re obviously streamlining some of that.”

More conference realignment is coming. The fate of the Pac-12 is still to be determined.

Moore’s foul shots lift Miami to 68-66 NCAA win over Trojans

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GREENVILLE, S.C. — Charlie Moore used all the focus he’d learned at California, at Kansas, at DePaul and now Miami to produce the biggest moment of his career in the NCAA Tournament.

Moore’s free throws with three seconds left lifted the 10th-seeded Hurricanes to a 68-66 win over No. 7 seeded Southern California in the Midwest Region on Friday.

Moore, at his fourth school in his sixth college season, calmly swished through the winning shots to send Miami (24-10) to its first NCAA win in six years.

“I just wanted to focus and take my time,” Moore said of the final moments. “I felt like, if I make them, we had a great chance of winning the game, and I knocked them down.”

USC (26-8) had a final chance, but Drew Peterson’s half-court attempt hit off the backboard and the front rim before bounding away.

“Unfortunately,” Trojans coach Andy Enfield said, “we were a possession short.”

Not before a couple of dramatic comebacks. USC trailed by 13 points three minutes before halftime before rallying to a 37-32 lead. Then, down 65-58 with 44 seconds to go, Peterson made two 3-pointers and a layup to tie things at 66-all and set up Moore’s winning foul shots.

Moore drove the lane in the final moments and appeared to have his layup blocked by Chevez Goodwin. But a foul was called on Ethan Anderson and Moore made the free throws.

Miami coach Jim Larranaga, who led George Mason to the 2006 Final Four, will take his Hurricanes to the second round Sunday for a game against Auburn.

Isaiah Wong led Miami with 22 points before fouling out with 2:07 to play with his team ahead 59-58.

Peterson led Southern Cal with 17 points.

Miami won its first NCAA game since defeating Wichita State in the second round in 2016.

Miami led 29-16 late in the first half, but the Trojans (26-8) opened the second half on 17-2 run to go ahead.

Wong scored the next five points to regain the lead and set up a tight, back-and-forth battle to the final seconds.

There were eight lead changes over the final 11 minutes.

“This is a good win for the university because it’s been a minute since we’ve been here,” Wong said. “With the team we have right now, we’ve been playing good.”

Especially Wong, who who hit seven of his 12 shots and eight of his nine free throws.

Wong scored Miami’s first 13 points to lead his team to an early lead, but USC went ahead 14-13 on Goodwin’s putback. That’s when the Hurricanes went on an 18-6 run to lead 31-20.

THE BIG PICTURE

Miami: The Hurricanes leaned heavily on Wong the first 37 minutes, then got contributions from Moore and Kameron McGusty to advance. They’ll need everyone from the start if they hope to keep playing after Auburn showed its power and versatility in an 80-61 first-round victory over Jacksonville State.

Southern California: The Trojans’ slow start put them in an early hole, and it didn’t help that they had trouble taking care of the ball with 18 turnovers, 12 off steals. USC made just 8 of 27 shots the first 20 minutes as Miami moved out to a double-digit lead.

CONTRACT EXTENSION

USC’s Enfield got a six-year contract extension on the eve of the postseason. The new deal, announced March 9, will keep Enfield at the school through the 2027-28 season. Before this loss, Enfield and the Trojans had won five of their last seven NCAA Tournament games including a run to the Elite Eight a season ago.

TAKING CARE OF THE BALL

Miami finished with a season-low three turnovers. “Ridiculous,” Larranaga said.

“Back in September at practice, we turned the ball over like it was a good thing,” he recalled. “Everybody’s turning the ball over, turning it over, bad passes everywhere.”

Larranaga talked with his players and the message worked as the team’s offensive flow and efficiency improved. The team has had 16 games with single-digit turnover performances.

No. 17 UCLA beats No. 16 USC, 75-68, finishes second in Pac-12

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LOS ANGELES – The UCLA Bruins could shout “We’re number two!” and feel good about it for now.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 27 points and No. 17 UCLA defeated 16th-ranked Southern California 75-68 on Saturday night to claim the No. 2 seed in next week’s Pac-12 Tournament. No. 2 Arizona earned the top seed with 18 league victories.

“We’re definitely focused and locked in going into the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments,” said Jules Bernard, who added 19 points.

The Bruins (23-6, 15-5 Pac-12) came into the teams’ regular-season finale tied for second in the league with their crosstown rival. They snapped a five-game skid against the Trojans with their first win in the series since Feb. 28, 2019, and first under third-year coach Mick Cronin.

“It definitely means a lot to end the regular season on a good note,” Bernard said.

Jaquez has scored 57 points in the Bruins’ last two games, including a career-high 30 against Washington.

“I’m just feeling a lot better,” he said. “My ankles are doing a lot better right now.”

Johnny Juzang returned for UCLA after missing two games with a sprained right ankle. He finished with eight points, missing two free throws with 30 seconds left and the Bruins clinging to a four-point lead.

Bernard went 3 of 4 at the free-throw line to close out the win.

The Trojans (25-6, 14-6) were led by Isaiah Mobley with 20 points and eight rebounds. Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson added 13 points each. Except for scoring the game’s first basket, the Trojans trailed the rest of the way. But they made it close at the end.

Fueled by a raucous, profanity-chanting student section, the Bruins’ defense forced 15 turnovers in avenging a 67-64 loss to the Trojans last month at Galen Center. UCLA had just one turnover – by Myles Johnson – for its fewest in any game on record and fewest by a Pac-12 team on record.

“Just sharing the ball, not trying to force anything, playing good offense,” Jaquez said.

USC tied the game 47-all on a four-point play by Ellis that capped a 12-6 run to open the second half.

Jaquez dunked one-handed to spark six straight points by UCLA before Peterson scored five in a row to draw the Trojans within one.

Jaquez took over, scoring on three consecutive possessions in a 16-4 run that gave UCLA its largest lead, 69-56. The Trojans committed four turnovers in short order and Ellis picked up his third foul.

But USC regrouped and closed to 70-68 with a 12-1 spurt, including seven points by Mobley, as the Bruins went cold.

“I didn’t like the way we finished the game. We had some egregious errors down the stretch,” Cronin said. “We did everything we could to let them back in. We should have won by double figures.”

Cody Riley hit a turnaround jumper in the lane that kept UCLA ahead 72-68.

Max Agbonkpolo committed USC’s final turnover with 31 seconds to play. Reese Dixon-Waters and Ellis missed 3-pointers and Ellis missed an easy layup over the final 16 seconds.

BIG PICTURE

USC: The Trojans won a school-record 25 games in the regular season and are poised to make another postseason run. They reached the Elite Eight last year.

UCLA: The Bruins went 5-1 in making the Final Four at last year’s NCAA Tournament and they are eager to go a step further with their talent-laden roster.

GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY

The Bruins marked the 50th anniversary of the program’s 1972 national championship at halftime. Among the players gathered at center court were Bill Walton, Jamaal Wilkes, Henry Bibby, Larry Farmer and Sven Nater, along with assistant coach Gary Cunningham. UCLA went undefeated in 1971-72 under coach John Wooden en route to winning the school’s eighth NCAA basketball title.

SENIOR NIGHT

Bernard, Riley and David Singleton were honored before the game, although it might not be the seniors’ last. All three could return next season since the NCAA has granted extra eligibility to players because of COVID-19.

UP NEXT

Both teams earned first-round byes for the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas and will open play on Thursday. The Bruins play the winner of No. 7 Washington State against No. 10 California. The third-seeded Trojans play either No. 6 Washington or No. 11 Utah in the quarterfinals. If both teams win, the Bruins and Trojans could meet in the semifinals.

No. 2 Arizona throttles No. 16 USC to win Pac-12 title

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES – A return to regular-season Pac-12 Conference glory for No. 2 Arizona was not an occasion for wild celebrations, loud roars or proud proclamations.

A convincing 91-71 victory over No. 16 Southern California was more of an arm-around-your-shoulder moment as the Wildcats won their first regular-season conference title in four seasons. Arizona used a business-like approach to knock of the second-place Trojans with the help of a little perspective.

Bennedict Mathurin scored 19 points and Kerr Kriisa added 18 in the rout, while Justin Kier scored 12 points as the Wildcats (26-3, 16-2 Pac-12) rebounded from an out-of-character double digit loss at Colorado over the weekend.

“We know who we are; we took that `L’ to the head,” Kier said about Saturday’s eye-opening 79-63 loss at Colorado. “We knew we had to fix some things from that game but we weren’t too down on ourselves because we know we could have played better.”

First-year Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd reminded his team that conference titles are expected for a program rich in tradition. His team made it look like it had been in this position before.

“Our guys are built for it,” Lloyd said. “They were excited to play and you saw that look in their eye early. I felt good about practice (Monday). I felt great about shootaround today. I was trying to not get too excited because that doesn’t always translate to a win. This time, the guys brought us home.”

Max Agbonkpolo scored 14 points, while Drew Peterson and Chevez Goodwin had 10 points each as the Trojans (25-5, 14-5) saw their six-game winning streak come to an end. USC lost its first game since Feb. 5 when they failed to hold on to a second-half lead at Arizona in a 72-63 defeat.

The Trojans fell into a second-place tie in the conference standings with UCLA. The winner of Saturday’s game between Los Angeles rivals will finish alone in second place.

Playing in a game that was rescheduled from Jan. 2 because of USC’s COVID-19 concerns, Arizona had no issue with its third game in six days. The Wildcats led 17-8 at the first timeout just over five minutes into the game, went up by 20 for the first time with just under three minutes remaining in the first half and shot 55% (22 of 40) before halftime.

“Our guys didn’t play with the pace necessary in the first half and it showed,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said.

In winning their first regular-season conference title since the 2017-18 season, the Wildcats improved on their best overall record since they were 28-2 in 2013-14. Arizona also shot 48.1% from the field or better in all 10 of its Pac-12 road games.

Mathurin went 7 of 13 from the field for Arizona, while adding six assists and five rebounds as he continued to make a case for conference player-of-the-year honors. Dalen Terry and Oumar Ballo had 11 points each for the Wildcats.

“We’re thankful but not satisfied,” Mathurin said about the first-place finish in the regular season. “The job is not finished.”

Isaiah Mobley scored nine points for USC with a game-high 11 rebounds as the Trojans shot just 39.7% from the field and 22.2% (4 of 18) from 3-point range.

“Well, Drew’s had a terrific season, so has Isaiah and so has Boogie (Ellis), and they started out 3-for-23,” Enfield said about poor early shooting. “Your leading scorers have to play well in big games or you’re just not going to win. When you’re paying 30-something minutes each, you have to produce.”

FIGHT ON

USC’s second sold out game of the season included a pair of heavyweights from the football program. Transfer quarterback Caleb Williams was in attendance as was new head coach Lincoln Riley.

Riley received a huge cheer when he was introduced and took the opportunity to bond with the student section when he lobbed giveaway T-shirts into the crowd. USC admitted 2,700 students to the game, the most in the history of Galen Center, which opened in 2006.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona: The Wildcats not only rebounded from Saturday’s dreadful 16-point loss at Colorado, they finished the road portion of the schedule with an 8-3 record. There are nothing but home games and neutral courts ahead. Arizona closes the regular-season schedule with games against Stanford and Cal at Tucson, Ariz., where they are 15-0. On neutral courts Arizona is 2-0.

USC: The Trojans’ bid for a Pac-12 title fell short, although plenty of high-profile chances remain. USC gets cross-town rival UCLA next, putting a five-game winning streak against the Bruins on the line. The Trojans also head to the Pac-12 Conference Tournament next week at Las Vegas with a first-round bye in hand, then have the NCAA Tournament next with a chance to better last year’s Elite Eight run.

UP NEXT

Arizona: The Wildcats return home to face Stanford on Thursday.

USC: The Trojans will play at No. 17 UCLA on Saturday to wrap up their regular-season schedule.

Gonzaga, Arizona remain atop AP Top 25 in week of changes

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The top six and seven of the top nine teams in the AP Top 25 lost on the same day last week, an unprecedented day of chaos that led to some big changes in this week’s poll – everywhere but at the top.

Gonzaga and Arizona remained the top two teams in the poll released Monday, holding steady despite both losing their most recent games.

The Zags received 43 first-place votes from the AP’s 61-person media panel after being a unanimous pick last week. No. 3 Baylor had four first-place votes and No. 4 Duke picked up 11. Auburn rounded out the top five.

Gonzaga, Arizona, Auburn, Purdue, Kansas and Kentucky all lost on Saturday, marking the first time in the AP poll era (1948-49) that the top six teams lost on the same day. No. 9 Texas Tech also lost, setting another record for most top-10 teams losing in one day.

“It’s kind of life in late February and early March, especially on the road,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after the Zags’ 67-57 loss to No. 19 Saint Mary’s to close out their regular season.

Baylor was the biggest beneficiary of its Saturday win, moving up seven spots after beating Kansas 80-70. The Jayhawks fell one spot to No. 6 with the loss.

Auburn lost three spots from last week after losing to No. 13 Tennessee. No. 7 Kentucky fell a spot after losing to No. 14 Arkansas and Purdue dropped four places to No. 8 with its loss to Michigan State.

Got all that?

In all, every team but four got shuffled in this week’s poll; only Gonzaga, Arizona, No. 14 Houston and No. 16 Southern California held steady.

No teams fell out or moved into the poll, but things are getting awfully interesting with conference tournaments just around the corner.

BATTLING BEARS

Baylor, the reigning national champion, looked like a good bet to get back to the Final Four at the start of the season after opening 15-0 while holding the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25 for five weeks.

Then things got a little shaky.

The Bears lost consecutive home games for the first time since 2015-16, then injuries began piling up, including a gruesome leg injury to forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua.

After tumbling down the poll, Baylor may be finding its footing. The Bears won a rematch over Oklahoma State in Stillwater and did the same against Kansas on Saturday, improving to 10-1 against top-10 teams the past two seasons.

“I know our team looked a little bit different in the beginning of the year than we do now but don’t count these guys out,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “They persevere.”

RISING/FALLING

Baylor’s jump was the biggest of the week by gaining seven spots. Tennessee, Arkansas and Saint Mary’s all climbed four spots.

No. 17 UCLA and No. 20 Illinois had the biggest drops (five spots). The Bruins lost to Oregon before beating Oregon State last week and the Illini lost to No. 23 Ohio State before knocking off Michigan.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big Ten and Southeastern conferences led the way again this week, each with five teams ranked. The Big 12 had four ranked teams, with the Pac-12 and Big East getting three each. The West Coast Conference had two ranked teams for the second straight week, with the Atlantic Coast, American Athletic and Ohio Valley conferences at one each.