Bryce’s Brick Burns Brown’s Boys — After carrying the team with a barrage of made three-pointers, Bryce Alford heaves up a near-airball on UCLA’s final possession, when an SMU player touches it for a 3-point Goaltending call giving the Bruins a 1-point lead; Mustang fans and their Coach Larry Brown will complain, but Kevon Looney had the rebound for an easy game-tying putback (if no Goaltending call had been made), plus, SMU missed two open shots in the final seconds to cement the loss
Two things are always certain in March Madness: Upsets and controversy. On Thursday, the UCLA/SMU game supplied both. The 11th seeded (and 3-point underdog) Bruins upended the 6th-seeded Mustangs 60-59, on a Goaltending call that will be debated for a long time. Of course, one play — or one call — does not cause a team to lose. Rather, it is a whole 40-minute game that determines who will come out on top.
The Bruins controlled the contest for most of the game, behind the Offense of Norman Powell and the hot three-point shooting of Bryce Alford. While Tony Parker struggled inside on Offense, the Bruins had to rely on Alford, who made 9 of 11 three’s on his way to 27 points. The Bruins led by 4 at the half 34-30, and built the margin up to 10 after the intermission, holding SMU to 1-of-12 shooting to start out the second half. But then the Bruins went into a serious funk, getting outscored NINETEEN-TO-ZERO, as SMU made 7 straight shots. The remarkable spurt had the Mustangs up by 9, with 4:30 to go in the game, and things looked bleak for UCLA. But the Bruins did not quit. Powell scored on a driving lay-up to break the streak, then Alford hit two more three’s to cut the deficit to 3. With 1:28 left, after an SMU bucket, with the Bruins down by 5, Powell dribbled the ball off his foot, leading to a breakaway for the Mustangs. So, the Bruins were down by 7 with 85 seconds left. Talk about “bleak!!”
But Alford came back with yet another three, Thomas Welsh blocked a shot, and then Powell got fouled. Norman calmly swished both Free Throws (giving him 19 points for the game), and then, with 26 seconds left, SMU committed an unforced Turnover, setting up the controversial play. Steve Alford called the Bruins’ “Quick Play,” but the Defense stopped it, so Bryce went around a screen and hurled up a horrible prayer over a double-team and a long, outstretched arm. The ball had NO CHANCE of going in the hoop. AT BEST, it had a slight chance of grazing the outside of the right side of the rim. But before it got a chance to hit or miss the rim, an SMU player tipped the ball, drawing a CORRECT Goaltending call. The awarded three points put the Bruins in the lead at 60-59, with 13 seconds left.
People are going to go ballistic over this crucial call, because the Goaltending was NOT stopping a ball from going in the hoop. But Officiating experts are saying it was a correct call. The ball does not need to be going in to enable that call. As long as it HAD A CHANCE to graze the rim, it cannot be legally touched.
Another reason to not whine about this call: If the call was NOT made, the Bruins would have tied the game, considering that Kevon Looney snagged the rebound (his TENTH of the game), and was in position to score easily.
The final reason for SMU fans to not bemoan this call as the reason why they lost: With 13 seconds left, their best, and hottest player had two clear, open shots at the basket, and he choked twice, leaving both of them short, and allowing a bronchitis-stricken Larry Brown to go home and recuperate.
SMU played poorly for all but the 9-minute, 19-0 spurt, and they blew a 9-point lead in the final 5 minutes, so they should blame themselves, not the refs. Grabbing that Bryce brick on the way down, that close to the rim, was not a smart play, even if the ball was not going in. So SMU goes on vacation, while UCLA survives and advances to the Round of 32.
And guess what? Instead of the anticipated super-tough match-up against 3-seed Iowa State, the Bruins get 14-seed UAB, who shocked the Cyclones, also by the score of 60-59. Not only is UAB a 14th seed, but the Bruins already played them this season, and beat them soundly, 88-76, on a neutral court in the Bahamas. UAB has improved since then, but have they improved as much as the Bruins have?
Back then, the Bruins had NO bench. Now, Gyorgy Goloman and Noah Allen holding their own when on the court, and Thomas Welch is a significant contributor, actually outperforming Tony Parker today, getting 6 Boards and FOUR BLOCKS! With this bench improvement, the starters can stay fresher, and out of foul trouble, and UCLA can finish games stronger. Case in point: The Bruins scored the last 8 points against SMU… and they needed every one of them.
So if the Bruins can once again handle the Blazers, they would be in the Sweet 16 — against all odds — for the second time in a row, in both of Coach Alford’s seasons. That would be quite an accomplishment considering all the roster challenges that they have faced this year, and an accomplishment that no one expected, even 12 hours ago.