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FINAL FOUR BOUND!!! UCLA Outlasts Michigan in a Thriller, 51-49
THE MIRACLE RUN CONTINUES!
YOU ARE GETTING AN ALL CAPS RECAP BECAUSE THE UCLA BRUINS ARE GOING TO THE FINAL FOUR!!!!!
THE UCLA BRUINS DID NOT PLAY PERFECT BASKETBALL. THEY MADE MISTAKES. GUYS MISSED SHOTS THEY’VE MADE ALL THROUGHOUT THIS RUN. MICHIGAN WAS GETTING ANYTHING IT WANTED ON THE INTERIOR.
NONE OF IT MATTERED.
THE BRUINS SHOWED THE HEART AND GRIT THAT HAS COME TO DEFINE THEIR TOURNAMENT RUN, GETTING TIMELY STOPS AND RIDING A LEGENDARY PERFORMANCE FROM JOHNNY JUZANG TO KNOCK OFF THE #1 SEED MICHIGAN WOLVERINES BY THE FINAL SCORE OF 51-49 TO PUNCH THEIR TICKET TO THE FINAL FOUR.
OK, enough of the caps. Let’s breathe for a second.
Seriously, let’s start with Johnny Juzang because wow. UCLA got into a hole early as shots refused to fall, and so the Bruins’ best offensive player stepped up when the situation called for it. Juzang had 28 points on 11-19 shooting, scoring over half of the Bruins points and continually coming up with key baskets throughout the game. For the record, all Juzang slander will not be tolerated from here on out, because he was outstanding on the offensive end when the lights were shining the brightest.
And then the defense! The defense was incredible!
UCLA had an issue on the interior, but the team focused their defense on collapsing on that interior and making Michigan’s guards beat them. It worked. Cody Riley and, in one of the more improbable turns of the entire NCAA Tournament, Kenneth Nwuba combined to limit Michigan big man Hunter Dickinson to 11 points on 5-10 shooting, which was a huge win in the grand scheme of things.
That put more pressure on the guards of Michigan, who wilted under the pressure. Franz Wagner, a potential NBA lottery pick, was abysmal, shooting 1-10 from the field including bricking two shots in the final six seconds of the game. The rest of the starting backcourt was not much better; Mike Smith went 1-7, while Eli Brooks went 3-8. UCLA still played good defense on the outside, including limiting the Wolverines to 3-11 shooting from distance, but the game was put into the hands of the Michigan guards, and they choked.
It should be mentioned again: UCLA did not play particularly great basketball! Jaime Jaquez and Jules Bernard, who have been instrumental during this run, had a real rough go of it in this one. Both players had four points on the night, with Jaquez going 1-6 and Bernard going 2-10. The Bruins were not able to get a huge amount of bench contributions outside of Nwuba’s brilliance, and in general Mick Cronin chose to ride with his starters. And it didn’t help that the officiating was, again, extremely poor, to the point where I would not be shocked if the comments section was not flooded with people asking for an investigation had the Bruins lost.
But that’s the thing: the Bruins didn’t lose. The won! They really won!
In the postgame for the Michigan State game, I wrote the following:
But if there is anything we should take away from this game, it is the heart of this team. It would have been completely understandable given the circumstances had the Bruins folded at halftime, but that didn’t happen. The Bruins instead fought back, got tough, and offered an incredible reminder of last year’s never-say-die squad. I don’t think the Bruins will ultimately win this tournament, but at this point you can’t count them out of any game.
Five games later, that still holds true. The Bruins could have folded when Johnny Juzang went down with an ankle injury. They could have folded when Michigan took their first lead of the second half. It would have been understandable, given the situation and opponent.
It didn’t happen. The Bruins refused to die.
Credit Mick Cronin for turning the culture around in two years. Credit the players for buying in completely. Credit the program for rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the Steve Alford era. Credit Steve Lavin, who called this back in December and is now our new favorite person following us on Twitter (which you should totally do just to watch me die emotionally during each game).
UCLA is, improbably, unbelievably, in the Final Four. Exactly where they expected to be all along.
Johnny Juzang led the Bruins with 28 points. Jules Bernard led the team with nine rebounds, while Jaime Jaquez led the team with four assists. Hunter Dickinson led the Wolverines with 11 points.
Player of the Game: Johnny Juzang - This was the type of game legends are made of. Juzang put the Bruins on his back offensively, scoring 28 points on 11-19 shooting, and repeatedly coming up with huge buckets whenever the Bruins needed them. This was a team victory, but Juzang had an outsized role in earning it.
Special considerations: Tyger Campbell and Kenneth Nwuba - Campbell has been much maligned down the stretch (including by me) but he has come alive in the past couple games. UCLA needed someone to help Juzang on the offensive end, and Campbell rose to the occasion, scoring 11 points on 5-10 shooting. And how about Nwuba! Nwuba was forced to play major minutes as Cody Riley was in foul trouble early and often, and absolutely stepped up, providing a solid pivot on the defensive end against the strong Wolverine interior. You can’t ask for more than what Nwuba gave in this game.
Heart of a Champion - I don’t know if UCLA has the horses to beat Gonzaga in the next round, but one thing we should never doubt is that this team will refuse to give up. They’ll play hard the entire game, and make you match their level of intensity. It was that heart that got them this far. It was that heart that won them this game. As the saying goes, never underestimate the heart of a champion.
The Bruins will now take on #1 overall seed and undefeated Gonzaga in the Final Four on Saturday.
GO BRUINS!!!!! FINAL FOUR!!!!!!!!