UCLA reached 28 wins in the regular season for the first time in the storied history of the program with a controversial victory over California in both teams' finale last weekend. The Golden Bears would no doubt like to exact revenge by bouncing the Bruins from another Pac-10 tournament.
Hoping to remove any doubt about their status as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the third-ranked and top-seeded Bruins look to avoid their second consecutive conference tournament loss to the ninth-seeded Golden Bears as the teams meet in the quarterfinals at Staples Center on Thursday.
UCLA (28-3) had already clinched its third straight regular-season Pac-10 title when it hosted California on Saturday, but the Bruins were still hoping to prove themselves worthy of a top seed in the NCAA tournament and a spot in the nearby West Region.
They helped their cause with an 81-80 win, but may have gotten a little help from the officials, who didn't review Josh Shipp's game-winning rainbow jumper over the backboard with 1.5 seconds remaining. NCAA Rule 7, Section 1, Article 3 states "The ball shall be out of bounds when it passes over the backboard from any direction."
"It crossed over the corner (of the backboard)," said Bill McCabe, the Pac-10 supervisor of officials who attended the game. "The officials said it was too close to call."
Shipp's game-winner came directly after Cal forward Ryan Anderson had the ball ripped from him in the corner - a play that sparked more controversy among the Golden Bears (15-14).
"They clearly tackled me, maybe hit me, and I fell to the ground looking for the foul and it didn't go our way," Anderson said. "But that's UCLA, number (three) in the country and they're going to get respect. That's just frustrating, really frustrating."
It was the second consecutive game the Bruins won with the help of a favorable call in the final seconds. They forced overtime with two free throws that were the result of a foul called on what appeared to be a clean block last Thursday, and eventually beat then-No. 7 Stanford 77-67.
"We aged Coach Ben Howland about 10 years over these last two games," UCLA freshman Kevin Love joked after Saturday's victory.
Howland, the first UCLA coach to win three straight league titles since John Wooden, will likely take his wins however he can get them.
"We continue to get everybody's best shot and somehow we continue to come out on top," he said. "This is good for us because this is how it's going to be next Thursday (in the Pac-10 tournament)."
Howland's regular-season success, however, did not translate in last season's conference tournament. In their quarterfinals matchup with the Golden Bears, the Bruins shot 41.8 percent and missed 14 of their 29 free throws in losing 76-69 in overtime.
"That was embarrassing," recalled UCLA guard Darren Collison, who was also a member of the Bruins team that won its first conference tournament since 1987 by beating Cal in the championship game in 2006. "I remember guys coming back from that game, it was painful. We can't lose that first game. We're going to be up for this game."
So will the Golden Bears, who rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit to beat Washington 84-81 in the opening round on Wednesday. Anderson had 22 points and 16 rebounds as Cal snapped its five-game losing streak.
Anderson finished the regular season as the Pac-10's leading scorer with 21.5 points per game and ranked third with 9.9 rebounds per contest.
Love, meanwhile, was seventh in scoring (17.4) and second in rebounding (10.9).
In their head-to-head matchups, Anderson averaged 16.5 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting 41.7 percent, and Love put up 20.5 points, 10.0 boards and shot 58.3 percent as UCLA swept the series.