UCLA was a 5-point favorite against Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals. The Bruins failed to cover a 6.5-point spread in a five-point home win over the Beavers six weeks earlier but appeared on their way to comfortable outright and against-the-spread wins in their first meeting against Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament since 2006.
UCLA, however, blew a 16-point first-half lead and lost in overtime, falling to 12-14 against the spread (.461) on the season. One week later, they opened the NCAA Tournament as a 2.5-point underdog against Michigan State in the First Four. And bettors pounded the Spartans; more than 80 percent of all spread tickets and handle were on Michigan State, the highest share of any game through the first two rounds of March Madness betting.
The Bruins covered +2.5 in the six-point overtime win, the first of three straight ATS wins en route to their first Sweet 16 since 2017; they covered +4 in an 11-point win over BYU in the First Round and -4 in a 20-point demolition of Abilene Christian in the Second Round. The only First Four team still alive, UCLA is also the only team with three ATS wins. And bettors are finally aboard.
Since bettors flocked to Michigan State in the First Four, UCLA has received a greater share of the tickets and handle in each of their last two games. While they weren’t a public favorite against BYU, they did receive approximately 45 percent of tickets and 35 percent of the handle. Two days later against Abilene Christian, they received 68 percent of tickets and 72 percent of the handle.
For UCLA bettors over this three-game run, it’s a return to profitability for a volatile market since the Steve Lavin-to-Ben Howland transition. They opened the Howland era in 2003-04 with a 13-14 ATS record (.481) before one of the best four-year runs of any team in college basketball over the last two decades. From 2004-08, UCLA went 77-54-3 ATS (.586), including 22-13 during their national runner-up season in 2005-06.
Since then, not including this year’s NCAA Tournament: 210-217-4 (.492).
And those 13 years include a 23-13 mark (.639) in 2013-14, their best ATS record in the last 18 seasons. Before this three-game tournament winning streak, UCLA was 14-18 ATS in their previous 11 tournament appearances. While the 14 ATS wins since 2004 ranked in the top 25 among all teams, their ATS winning percentage (.438) ranked 37th among the 60 teams with at least 10 tournament games.
For more than a decade, UCLA was, at best, a stay-away team, or worst, an auto-fade. Suddenly, and while it remains a small sample size, the Bruins are crushing NCAA Tournament spreads in search of their first Elite Eight since 2008.
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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @DoughtyBetMGM