Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

UCLA received the 11th seed in the South Region and will begin play in the NCAA basketball tournament against sixth- seeded SMU Thursday in Louisville.

Bracket experts Joe Lunardi of ESPN and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports had both predicted that the Bruins (20-13) would fail to qualify for the tournament.

“I definitely think this team’s deserving,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said on a conference call with reporters. “They’ve worked awfully hard. I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”

The ESPN-affiliated data prediction website FiveThirtyEight.com gives UCLA a 37 percent chance of defeating the Mustangs (27-6), the American Athletic Conference regular season and tournament champion.

Since the NCAA tournament field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the 11th seed is 41-79 against the fourth seed, a .342 winning percentage.

“We know we have a tough task ahead of us,” Alford said. “I know our guys will be ready. Hopefully we’ll be successful.”

SMU is coached by Hall of Famer Larry Brown, who coached the Bruins from 1979-81, including guiding them to a berth in the 1980 national championship game.

The game will begin at approximately 12:10 p.m. and be carried by cable’s truTV.

The winner will play Saturday against the winner of the game between third-seeded Iowa State and 14th-seeded UAB.

—Staff and wire reports

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