SAN FRANCISCO (AP)UCLA forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. and guard Tyger Campbell spoke during the offseason about unfinished business with the Bruins and how they both wanted to come back for their senior seasons.
”He had opportunities, I had opportunities,” Jaquez said Wednesday at Pac-12 media day. ”But ultimately we came to the decision that we were going to come back and hang banner No. 12 in Pauley Pavilion.”
That’s a reference to adding to UCLA’s NCAA-best 11 national championships.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin has five players returning who have played in a Final Four, and he is counting on that experience helping a handful of freshmen prepare for the competition in the Pac-12.
UCLA has four of its top seven scorers back from a team that finished as the 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.
The eighth-ranked Bruins are favored to win the conference. UCLA received 26 first-place votes from a 33-person media panel in the poll released on Wednesday. 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.
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.
”So many things have changed and there are so many more moving parts now than maybe there was 10, 15 years ago,” Lloyd said. ”I think it comes down to treating people right. I think if you treat people right, you treat players right you have a better chance of them wanting to stay around. And that being said, I’m also really excited for our guys that did leave and the opportunities that they’ve created for themselves. We’re just going to attack it on a day-to-day basis and try to make good, simple decision after good, simple decision and treat people right and I think that’s going to be to the foundation of our continuity.”
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.
Injuries have limited the Ducks’ numbers for practices – with junior guard Keeshawn Barthelemy the only one to participate in all 18 practices so far.
”Our preseason practice has been a little disrupted by injuries. We’ve had a little hard time getting everybody on the floor and playing five-on-five, we haven’t had enough guys to do that,” coach Dana Altman said. ”So we’re moving along slower than I anticipated, but I do like the guys. I think eventually we’ll get most of the guys back on.”
AP Basketball Writer John Marshall contributed to this report.
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