Though playing in the Pac-12 tournament will make her "a little bit nervous," UCLA women's basketball coach Cori Close said she and the No. 8 Bruins -- who have played short-handed a lot of this season -- will make the most of it.
"Especially for a team like ours ... it feels like there could be a little bit more risk than reward," Close said after the Bruins defeated No. 13 Oregon 83-56 on Friday. "But at the same time, I usually am a huge proponent of [conference tournaments] because I feel like they're this really great dress rehearsal of intensity and focus and that one-and-done mentality that you need for the NCAA tournament.
"And I think the student-athletes really enjoy it. But this is a weird year ... so, if I being candid, am I nervous about it? Yes."
The women's Pac-12 tournament runs March 3-7 in Las Vegas, with March 6 scheduled as an off day. Close also said the league told coaches it might look to add a few makeups for postponed games from this season to be played during the time all the teams are in Las Vegas, if those games potentially could help squads that were on the NCAA tournament bubble.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said earlier this month he wouldn't have minded if the Big East didn't have a tournament because of the potential risks of COVID-19 versus the reward of playing. South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said she thought having conference tournaments was still for the best to keep everything as normal as possible.
To this point, no major conference teams that are currently competing have announced they won't play in their league tournaments.
UCLA had to postpone its game against Colorado last Sunday because the Bruins didn't have enough scholarship players (at least seven) available. By Wednesday, though, the Bruins had nine players approved to practice and all of them played Friday. That includes Dominique Darius, one of the 2021 recruits who graduated from high school early and was able to join UCLA in late December.
"This is the most enjoyable week I've had coaching the team the whole year," said Close, who has two freshmen from Australia who were not allowed to travel to the United States to play this season. "This was the most healthy we have been, the most players we've had in practice. I think it blew wind into our sails."
The Bruins, who were projected as a No. 3 seed -- ninth overall -- in the NCAA's early reveal of the top 16 seeds on Monday, don't need to have a Pac-12 tournament run to make the NCAA field. But it could be a difference-maker for some Pac-12 teams.
"I also have to be a team player and go, 'You know what, maybe we'll get more teams from the Pac-12 in [the NCAA tournament] by playing it,'" Close said. "And the reality is we're playing it, so I might as well make the most of it, have a really good perspective about it and find a way to help our team get better through it."