ELITE! UCLA Refuses to Lose, Knocks Off Alabama 88-78 in Overtime
The Bruins reached the Elite 8 for the first time since the highpoint of the Howland era.
At various points during this game, I knew exactly how the opening of this would go. Let’s run through some of them real fast:
UCLA locked things down defensively to turn an anticipated matchup with Alabama into a laugher.
Mick Cronin’s insistence on playing Cody Riley proves costly for UCLA.
How much did CBS pay the referees to eliminate a Pac-12 team? An investigation.
A treatise on why short shorts are always the correct decision.
Math has once again failed a college coach in a pivotal moment.
Should UCLA tear down Wooden’s statue and replace it with one of Jaime Jaquez?
But at the end of the game, I am left with this: the UCLA Bruins took punch after punch from an extremely-talented Alabama Crimson Tide, and refused to go down. Instead, they kept fighting, and it was that fight and heart that lifted them to an overtime victory over Alabama to advance to the program’s first Elite Eight since 2008.
There is no substitute for heart in basketball, and this UCLA team has it in spades. Every time Alabama went on a run or looked like it was about to threaten the game, a different Bruin would step up. Consider:
Opening of the game: Tyger Campbell drew two quick offensive fouls to force SEC Player of the Year Herbert Jones to sit.
Alabama jumped out to an early lead, predicated on taking advantage of slow UCLA rotations and poor rebounding. Jaylen Clark entered the game and instantly stabilized things. And just for good measure, here’s excellent defense from Jake Kyman.
UCLA needed scoring punch? Here’s Johnny Juzang going on a run, then Jules Bernard going on a run.
Alabama coming out hot to start the second half? Jaime Jaquez time.
UCLA needs to attack the paint? Cody Riley is here to shake off a poor performance and absolutely dominate the game late.
Need free throws? We got’em.
Need to get off the mat after giving up a buzzer-beating three to tie the game? Sounds like a job for David Singleton.
None of this gets into the defensive effort from the Bruins, which again continued their tournament surge by limiting the Crimson Tide to 78 points on 43.5% shooting. A lot was made of Alabama’s three-point shooting, but what the national media failed to realize is that Alabama is successful because they take a ton of three-pointers. Their 30 attempts per game ranks 4th in the entire country, but they only make 35.5% of those shots, good for only 99th in the nation. The Bruins were cognizant of this, and constantly made sure Alabama did not have many clean looks from distance. Sure, the Tide were able to get up 28 shots from distance, but six of those came in the overtime session, and the Bruins held Alabama to a meager 25% from distance. Sure, the Bruins gave up a ton of looks on the inside, but for once that appeared to be the plan on defense: make Alabama beat you individually, but limit the outside shooting.
And sure, it would also help to mention that Alabama clearly could not rise to the moment in the way the Bruins had. This was the first time they’d been tested in the tournament, and the Tide wilted. Nowhere was that more apparent than at the free-throw line, where Alabama shot a Trojan-like 11-25 while the Bruins shot a stronger 20-25. And if you want to point to those missed free throws as the reason Alabama lost, I would in turn point towards the abysmal officiating that allowed Alabama to get to the line for the weakest reasons while ignoring all the contact UCLA had to fight through on the other end. In other words: miss me with that excuse.
A lot has been made of the media’s coverage (or lack thereof) of UCLA and the rest of the Pac-12 during this tournament run, but I will offer a mea culpa here: even I did not expect this run to happen. Certainly, I expected they would play tough and fight, but to win, and win in the way they have, goes well beyond even my wildest expectations. Let me state something: UCLA was not supposed to be here, not after losing Daishen Nix, Chris Smith, and Jalen Hill at various points.
And yet here they are.
UCLA fans have constantly had to hear over the past decade that the program was no longer elite, that the heyday of Bruin basketball was gone, and that we should stop pretending to be a blue blood program. We have never believed that to be the case; we always believed that with the right coach in place, the program has everything needed to be elite again.
Today, UCLA proved it is once-again elite.
Jules Bernard and Jaime Jaquez Jr. led the team with 17 points apiece. Jaylen Clark led the team with nine rebounds, and Tyger Campbell led the team with five assists. Jahvon Quinerly led Alabama with 20 points.
Player of the Game: Yes - It’s everyone. Everyone on the Bruins deserves a shoutout. This team doesn’t win without every single player stepping up when called upon, and so they all get Player of the Game.
Defense wins championships - We’ve been pointing out UCLA’s increased defensive intensity since the tournament began, and advanced stats have noticed it too. After the victory, UCLA’s adjusted defensive rating had risen all the way to 56th in the country, to go with an offense that is sitting just outside the top 10 at 11th. No matter what happens from here on out, a UCLA program that can continue this upward trajectory on the defensive end will be a winner for years to come.
Mick Cronin Gets His - A lot was made about Mick Cronin’s resume before he was hired at UCLA. Cronin had only gone to one Sweet Sixteen while at Cincinnati and had never made the Elite Eight. As it turns out, those kinds of stats are situational and meaningless, as Cronin has now gotten the Bruins to the Elite Eight in his first try at UCLA. The cream will always rise, and Cronin continues to look like a steal.
BONUS TAKEAWAY: I Love This Team - Presented without comment:
The Bruins will rest up before facing #1 seed Michigan in the Elite Eight on Tuesday.