UCLA, USC, San Diego St., UC Santa Barbara make NCAA basketball tournament

Donte Smith #14 of the USC Trojans reacts after making a basket in the first half against the Arizona Wildcats in the semifinals of the 2011 Pacific Life Pac-10 Men's Basketball Tournament at Staples Center on March 11, 2011 in Los Angeles.
Donte Smith #14 of the USC Trojans reacts after making a basket in the first half against the Arizona Wildcats in the semifinals of the 2011 Pacific Life Pac-10 Men's Basketball Tournament at Staples Center on March 11, 2011 in Los Angeles. Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Four Southern California teams have earned spots in the NCAA have dates in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament this week.

UCLA – which didn’t look like a tournament team early in the season – and USC – which didn’t look like it could make the field of 68 late in the season – are both back in the post-season party after missing out last year.

UCLA (22-10) will play Michigan State (19-14) in Thursday’s opening round of the Southeast Region in Tampa, FL. The Spartans have reached the Final Four in each of the last two seasons.

The Bruins were bounced from the Pac 10 Tournament last Thursday at STAPLES Center by Oregon – 76-59. Coach Ben Howland watched his team fall behind early against the Ducks, a problem that’s plagued UCLA throughout the season.

UCLA struggled in November and December, losing four straight games to non-conference teams. But the Bruins followed that streak with 16 wins in their next 19 games, including victories over 8th ranked BYU and 17th ranked St. John’s.

Also traveling to Tampa is UC Santa Barbara (18-13), the winner of the Big West tournament Saturday at the Honda Center. The Gauchos’ prize is a Thursday game against Florida (27-7 and ranked 12th by AP).

The USC Trojans (19-14), who nearly lost their coach on Thursday, won a spot Sunday in NCAA tournament’s Southwest Region. They’ll play Virginia Commonwealth (23-11) on Wednesday in Dayton, OH in a play-in game. VCU beat UCLA earlier this season – 89-85. The USC-VCU winner takes on Georgetown (21-10) on Friday.

USC coach Kevin O’Neill missed the Trojans’ 67-62 loss to Arizona in the Pac 10 tournament Friday. USC’s second-year coach had was suspended earlier in the day by Athletic Director Pat Haden after he’d been involved in an altercation with an Arizona booster the night before. O’Neill used to coach Arizona. Haden reinstated O’Neill yesterday, saying in a statement that the one-game suspension had "served its purpose." O'Neill still faces more disciplinary action by USC.

Many college basketball “bracketologists” – including ESPN - had USC missing the NCAA tournament. But the Trojans had a solid December win over No. 10 Texas, a two-point loss two weeks later against the 2nd ranked Kansas Jayhawks, and wins over UCLA, Washington and Tennessee – all of whom made the NCAA tournament field.

The top Southern California team in the NCAA tournament is San Diego State (32-2). The 7th-ranked Aztecs earned a Number 2 seed in the West Regional with a 32-2 record. They’ll take on Northern Colorado Thursday in Tucson, AZ.

The Aztecs won the Mountain West tournament Saturday in Las Vegas by pounding BYU – 72-54. It was San Diego State’s first win over BYU in three tries this season.

NIT

Long Beach State didn’t make the field of 68 in the NCAA tournament, despite a 22-12 record and a 14-2 first-place finish in the Big West Conference.

But the 49ers did make it into the 32-team NIT. They’ll play at Washington State (19-12) Wednesday night. The winner moves on to play either Oklahoma State or Harvard in the NIT’s second round.

NCAA Women

The NCAA will announce the field for the Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament on Monday night.

Certain to be among the highest seeds is UCLA. The 7th ranked Bruins are 27-4 this season, but three of their four losses are to Pac 10 rival Stanford – including a 64-55 loss to the Cardinal in the Pac 10 tournament championship game Saturday night.

Still alive and playing well in the Division II tournament is Cal Poly Pomona (27-4).

At home in Kellogg Gym Friday, the top-seeded Broncos beat Cal State San Bernardino in the West Region’s opening round – 71-43, then followed with a 67-47 romp Saturday against Alaska Anchorage.

Pomona takes on Grand Canyon in a third-round game Monday at Kellogg Gym at 7:00pm. The winner moves on to the Division II Elite Eight.

NAIA

Three local schools – Concordia (Irvine), Azusa Pacific and Biola (La Mirada) – also received invitations Sunday to the NAIA Men’s Division I Tournament that begins this week in Kansas City. It’s the second straight year that all three small school basketball powerhouses made the NAIA tournament’s 32-team field.

The NAIA Tournament is among the most entertaining sports events in the country for fans – and one of the most difficult for players. The first three days of the 32-team competition call for eight games a day on the same court, starting early in the morning and lasting nearly 'til midnight. The eventual NAIA champion has to win five games in a seven-day span.

Second-seeded Concordia opens tournament play Thursday against Georgia’s Southern Poly (8:45am PDT). Coach Ken Amman, now in his 10th season at Concordia, has led the Eagles to a 30-3 record – the team’s second straight 30-win season.

Concordia’s only loss since November was 73-71 upset at Biola a month ago.

Biola opens NAIA tournament play Thursday at 7:45pm PDT against Montana State-Northern. Coach Dave Holmquist –the head man at Biola for 30 years – compiled a 26-5 record this season.

Azusa-Pacific is back in the NAIA tournament for the 16th straight year. The Cougars (28-5) play Wednesday at 8:45am PDT against Tennessee’s Freed-Hardman.

Last season, Azusa-Pacific advanced to the championship game of the NAIA Tournament, losing to Oklahoma Baptist – 83-82 – when guard Marshall Johnson’s game-winning shot was waved off after the officials checked video replays.

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