Depsite a questionable résumé, a lack of signature wins, and a bevy of pundits predicting exclusion, UCLA gets invited to The Big Dance as an 11th Seed, and will play Larry Brown’s SMU in Louisville on Thursday, thanks to the Bruins’ steady improvement throughout the season, ultra-competitive game against Arizona, and possibly the glamour factor of being the one and only “UCLA”
The so-called experts said it wasn’t in the cards this year. Many UCLA fans felt like the Bruins were deservedly NIT-bound. Even the ESPN bracket guru said UCLA doesn’t belong. But the Selection Committee ignored all that nonsense, and rightfully returned UCLA to the NCAA Tournament for the third year in a row, and 4th out of 5.
UCLA made it in to the South Region as an 11 Seed, and will face the 6-seed SMU Mustangs, who are coached by former Bruin coach Larry Brown. The Mustangs are making their first March Madness appearance in 22 years, and have only faced the Bruins twice before, losing both times, the last time in 1976.
SMU’s star player is a 5’9″ Point Guard who won their Conference Player of the Year Award, and that edge at Point Guard is one reason the ‘Stangs are starting as a 3-point favorite in the game. SMU is 27-6 on the year, but is hardly invincible — Against Western Programs that Bruin fans are somewhat familiar with, SMU had to go to overtime to beat UC Santa Barbara, and got pounded by Gonzaga in a 16-point loss.
So the Bruins are in a terrific position — much better than could have been expected. They can get to the Sweet 16 without facing Florida (AGAIN), Duke, North Carolina, Villanova, Arizona, Virginia, or God forbid, Kentucky. If the Bruins beat SMU, they would face Iowa State (or MUCH less likely, UAB). Then in the Sweet 16, it would figure to be Gonzaga, and then Duke to get to the Final Four… if you are feeling wackily optimistic.
So congratulations to the Bruins and Coach Steve Alford, for improving just enough, and playing Arizona just tough enough, to convince the Committee to let them on to the dance floor, so that they can show the Country what they’ve got. If UCLA plays like they did this past week, they have a shot to exceed their pre-season expectations and survive into the second weekend. Good luck Bruins!!