First Four to Final Four

The+11-seed+Bruins+made+a+historical+run+in+this+year%27s+March+Madness+and+will+go+down+as+one+of+the+best+Cinderella+stories+in+history+of+the+tournament.

UCLA/Wikimedia Commons

The 11-seed Bruins made a historical run in this year’s March Madness and will go down as one of the best Cinderella stories in history of the tournament.

Caleb Hiatt, Sports Editor

The UCLA Bruins were selected as a first four 11-seed team for the big dance this year. In other words, they had to win a game to make it to the round of 64 which is most teams’ first game. UCLA matched up against fellow NCAA basketball blue blood, Michigan State. The arguably underrated Bruins took care of business against the inconsistent Spartans in their first four-game, but this was just the beginning of UCLA’s dance. The Bruins advanced quietly through the tournament as other fan favorites and Cinderella stories like Loyola-Chicago and Oral Roberts stole the spotlight.

In their play-in game against Michigan State, the Bruins found themselves down five with just over a minute to go in regulation. They managed to force overtime and eventually came away with the win. Things would only get harder for this UCLA team as they had a six seed matchup ahead of them. Despite being the underdog, the Bruins overcame BYU in an 11 point win led by Johnny Juzang who scored 27 of the team’s 73. In their next matchup and the Bruins’ only game not being an underdog, Juzang led the team in scoring again with help from Cody Riley and Jaime Jaquez Jr. in the 20 point blowout over 14-seed Abilene Chrisitan. The next game to come was the first big test for UCLA as they squared off against two-seed Alabama.

Alabama came into the tournament as one of the fastest-paced teams, scoring almost the most three-pointers per game and rebounding at one of the best rates in the nation. Needless to say, the Bruins shocked the world by pulling out their second OT win over one of the tournament’s best. After this 10 point overtime victory, things would only get harder with two one-seed matchups in their future, the first of which would be Michigan in the Elite Eight. In a slow, low-scoring back and forth defensive battle, Juzang managed to do what he does while the Wolverines seem to have no answer for him. He ended the night with 28 points to push the Bruins to their first final four since 2008. The game to come would be the Bruins’ toughest matchup of the season and will likely go down as one of the greatest college basketball games in history. 

The 11-seed would play the undefeated overall one-seed Gonzaga Bulldogs for a chance to go to the National Championship. The Bulldogs have been a truly special team this year; before their game against the Bruins they had won 27 games by double digits in a row, but the Bruins decided to end that streak. UCLA coach Mick Cronin drew up the perfect game plan and his players executed to near perfection. The Bruins slowed the game down to control the pace in order to prevent the Bulldogs from running in transition which is a large source of their scoring. Regardless of the slow pace at times, the game was still fairly high scoring thanks to the high field goal percentages (57.6 from UCLA and 58.7 from Gonzaga) and wide scoring distribution (UCLA had four double-digit scorers and Gonzaga had five). At the end of regulation, the score was tied at 81. This would be the Bruins’ third overtime game of the tournament. Many thought the Zags would be unequipped for a close game, but, despite their inexperience with close games, the Bulldogs found themselves up five late in overtime but Jaquez and Juzang managed to tie the game up. With three seconds left, Jalen Suggs of the Zags caught the ball inbounds and was able to take three dribbles before pulling up and banking in a deep three from the logo at the buzzer for the win.

Although UCLA was unable to take down the powerhouse of the tournament, the run they went on this year will go down in history as one of the greatest Cinderella stories of March Madness. UCLA went back and forth with Gonzaga from the tip. UCLA earned the respect of many fans and players around the world at this year’s tournament and will definitely be a team to watch for next season.