There’s winning, there’s losing, and then there’s making things extra interesting. Please see UCLA’s Round 2 contest against SMU for the perfect example of the latter.
They were already not favored to win on Thursday after wiggling their way into the Big Dance like a pre-teen sneaking into an R-rated movie. They then allowed the opposition to go on a 19-0 run late in the game, became the subject of a controversial goaltending call and somehow survived to edge past SMU 60-59.
All of that, of course, happened in the second half.
You really couldn’t have blamed viewers for wanting to stick a fork in UCLA as they let the lead get away from them. After a first half in which they kept SMU’s defense at bay and maintained a steady lead, the SoCal kids found themselves down by nine with just a little over six minutes left to play. It was up to leading scorer Norman Powell to break up SMU’s run and start UCLA’s bizarre climb back up the scoreboard.
Bryce Alford was the Bruin to watch all game, going 9-for-11 from the three-point marker, three of them crucial to the Bruins’ run in the last 1:26 of the half. (That ninth three-pointer might live on throughout the tournament for being counted because the refs called SMU’s Yanick Moreira for goaltending, but that’s a topic of discussion all its own.)
Even if you take the Call Heard ‘Round The NCAA away, it can’t be ignored that the Mustangs let the Bruins back in their kitchen, turnin the ball over and boosting UCLA’s 8-0 run as the clock ran down. Now they get to keep dancing, with the shot to tango on Saturday with UAB–who won their own 60-59 upset against Iowa State earlier in the day.
Think the UCLA critics were vocal before Thurday’s game? Saturday’s tilt already has the fuel to be just as interesting.
*Section Photo credit to Ethan Miller, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today Sports