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No. 14 UCLA holds off Nebraska 81-71

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FULLERTON, Calif. (AP) UCLA senior guard Bryce Alford wants the ball in his hands during critical moments at the end of games. He had it, and he delivered, scoring 14 of his 18 points in the second half to pace the No. 14 Bruins to a 82-71 victory over Nebraska in the Wooden Legacy semifinals Friday at Cal State Fullerton.

The Bruins (6-0) will play Texas A&M in Sunday’s championship game at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

Alford made a 3-pointer with 1:02 left to give UCLA a 77-66 lead. He made all four of his free throws after that. Isaac Hamilton scored 15 points and Lonzo Ball added 13 for UCLA. Center Thomas Welsh had his fourth double double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

“As a basketball player, those are the kind of moments you live for,” Bryce Alford said. “That’s something I’ve always prided myself on, being a closer … It’s about making smart plays down the stretch to help our team win games. I put (us) in a position to do that tonight.”

Nebraska (4-1) was led by Glynn Watson Jr., who scored a game-high 27 points.

The Bruins led 38-25 at halftime and on the first play of the second half, star freshman guard Ball wowed as he converted an alleyoop dunk with a pass from T.J. Leaf. He had many more highlight-reel plays after that. Midway through the second half, he tried to convert an alleyoop pass that was just off the mark into a basket. It didn’t fall, but he tipped in his own miss for the score.

Nebraska made just 10 of 35 shots in the first half for a dismal 28.6 field-goal percentage. The Cornhuskers made just one 3-pointer and shot 12.5 percent from long range. Nebraska cut the lead to two points at 58-56 on a 3-pointer from Watson Jr., but it would never get closer.

“I felt like we were very tentative in the first half,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “That’s not like us. I thought the second half was more of a snapshot of what we’re like. But every time got the game down to 2 or 3, they answered. Alford made some tough shots. (Aaron) Holiday made some tough shots. They hurt us. We didn’t get enough outside shooting.”

Ball left the game with four fouls for a 3:03-span but came back with 4:58 left in the game and then fouled out.


Nebraska: The Cornhuskers lost for just the first time this season in playing one of the country’s top teams. The third-place game won’t be easy, but Nebraska has an extra day to prepare for Virginia Tech.

UCLA: The Bruins played on national television but perhaps didn’t make many inroads with the East Coast audience as the game started at 12 a.m., EST. The Wooden Legacy championship game is at a much more viewer-friendly hour at 8:30 p.m. EST on Sunday.


Nebraska plays Virginia Tech in the third-place game on Sunday. They’ll have work to do in preparing for a physical team that just suffered its first loss of the season as well.

UCLA gets one day off before playing in the championship game against Texas A&M on Sunday. The Bruins are playing in the final of the tournament named after Wooden, who won 10 national championships in Westwood. No pressure.


UCLA cemented its status as a top-15 team by surviving its first real test of the season against a Big Ten Conference team.


UCLA is 4-0 in the all-time series against Texas A&M. The teams last played in the Wooden Classic in 2006 and 2008. Both of those games were decided by three points or less.


Nebraska lost its first game of the season but is scheduled to be at the happiest place on earth on Saturday – Disneyland – before playing Virginia Tech for third place on Sunday.

“… We have to bounce back. We can’t hang our heads. (Saturday), we can mope around and hang out with Goofy and Minney and Mickey, that’s fine, but on Sunday we need to be ready to go in and go to battle.”

— Nebraska coach Tim Miles


On Thursday night, Lonzo Ball’s father, LaVar Ball, guaranteed in a nationally-televised interview that UCLA would win the national championship. Asked how he felt about that, the freshman said: “I’m thankful for him. That’s how he is. Loud and to the point. I’m his son, so why wouldn’t he want the best for me?”

The end was disappointing, but Kentucky’s season outpaced all expectation

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In yet another example of what makes March Madness the greatest and most unpredictable sporting spectacle on the planet, Kentucky’s run to the Sweet 16 this season is going to be looked at as a disappointment.

Who saw that coming back in January?

Who thought that this team had second weekend potential when they were in the midst of the first four-game losing streak of John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington?

And please, show me who, at that point in time, predicted that Kentucky media would be calling a loss in the Sweet 16 “the worst loss” in the Calipari era back when there were actual discussions being had over whether or not the Wildcats were going to get into the NCAA tournament?

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns in college basketball

Kentucky lost on Thursday night. The fifth-seeded Wildcats fell to the ninth-seeded Wildcats of Kansas State in a game that turned into drama-filled slugfest down the stretch. The final score was 61-58. Kentucky had two shots at the end of regulation to force a tie or take the lead. They also gave up an offensive rebound to a 6-foot-3 no-name with 40 seconds left that led to the game-winning bucket.

The narrative is going to be that Kentucky choked this game away, that their inability to run offense — and P.J. Washington’s free throw yips — cost them the Final Four that seemed a given Thursday morning and a pipe dream on Selection Sunday.

The truth is that Kentucky was a flawed basketball team that got hot at the right time before running into a team that executed a game-plan to perfection while getting the benefit of a couple of bounces and whistles going their way.

And let me be perfectly clear: In no way, shape or form am I saying that Kentucky or Big Blue Nation should be happy with this loss. It should be disappointing. It should hurt — more so for the players than the fans, but whatever. The bracket broke perfectly for them. Everyone in their region was a cinderella. We weren’t wrong in thinking that Coach Cal’s kids were the heavy favorites to get to San Antonio out of Catlanta.

But we need to say that while also acknowledging this: There is a reason that Kentucky was a No. 5-seed this season.

This was a flawed basketball team.

They were young. They didn’t have enough shooting. Their offense was entirely too predictable, even when they were winning. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox weren’t carrying the load for them on that end, they didn’t really have anywhere to turn. And on Thursday night, they ran into a team that had the personnel and a game-plan to take away Kentucky’s two go-to guys.

Kansas State is not overly talented, but what they have in abundance are tough, athletic and older guards that are going to put in a shift on the defensive end of the floor. Kentucky fans may not know who Barry Brown is, but I guarantee you that fans of every Big 12 team can tell you just how good he can be. I guarantee that coaches in the Big 12 can tell you just how annoying their guards are, and those little guards played that role to perfection.

To put it another way, it wasn’t a fluke that Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to make plays off the dribble the way he has for the last two months of the season. It wasn’t an accident that Kevin Knox struggled to find a way to get the looks he had become accustomed to getting coming off of Kentucky’s circle sets.

And in a 40 minute basketball game, when one team matches up well with another, something as simple as Xavier Sneed catching fire and Washington going 8-for-20 from the foul line will get you beat.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because the real point that I am trying to make here is that this particular Kentucky team just wasn’t all that good. They were young. They were injured. They had their flaws masked by the improvement of a couple of kids who played out of their minds for long stretches of the season, and I just don’t think that’s something that should be overlooked.

Maybe this is just my mindset as a fan. I enjoy the ride more than I need to celebrate the ending. Give me a reason to tune in every game. Make me excited to have the monotony of a week broken up when the ball tips. I’m good.

And I think this Kentucky team accomplished just that.

But two weeks ago, no one thought this team had a shot of getting to the Elite 8. Two months ago, every Kentucky fan would have taken a trip to the second weekend in a heartbeat.

The ending sucked.

No doubt about it.

But this team kept fighting and kept improving and, in the end, lost because someone took makeup remover to the cosmetics that Calipari applied.

Be disappointed, but don’t lost sight of the big picture.

VIDEO: Townes’ late 3 seals Loyola’s win over Nevada

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Nevada was faced with a dilemma. The Wolf Pack were down just one possession – just one point – and were on defense with with a five-second differential between the game and shot clocks.

Foul and extend the game or play it out and hope for a stop?

Nevada opted to play it straight-up, and Loyola hit them with the worst-case scenario – a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.

The 3-pointer from Marques Townes made it a two-possession game and the clock all but ruled out the possibility for two possession.

And that’s why Loyola is now in the Elite Eight.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s tip times, TV channels, announcer pairings

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Half the spots in the Final Four are up for grabs Saturday. Be sure you know where your TV needs to be before the nets are cut down.

Atlanta: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 6:09 p.m. – No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola, TBS

Los Angeles: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 8:49 – No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida State, TBS

VIDEO: This is the shot that ended Kentucky’s season

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Barry Brown has spent all season being underrated.

And Kentucky found that out the hard way on Thursday night.

This bucket with 18 seconds left gave Kansas State a lead they would never relinquish in a win over Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Florida State advances past Gonzaga to Elite Eight

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Florida State was an afterthought heading into the season in an ACC that was as loaded as it was top-heavy.

They were a No. 9-seed in the NCAA tournament in part because they were able to pick off North Carolina and Clemson at home by a combined three points.

They needed three overtimes to hold off Miami and Syracuse at home. They needed a win over Boston College on Senior Night to avoid heading into the ACC tournament with a losing record, and they ended up going and losing in the first round of the ACC tournament to a Louisville that never really sniffed the bubble and parted ways with their interim head coach as soon as their NIT run ended.

They were almost universally picked to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Missouri because everyone knew Michael Porter Jr. was back and secretly hoped that the potential top five pick might actually make some noise as a collegian before his run came to an end.

The Seminoles have been written off and ignored for the entire college basketball season.

And now they are a win away from the Final Four.

Terance Mann scored 18 points and Florida State held fourth-seeded Gonzaga to 35 percent shooting as the Seminoles advanced to their first Elite 8 since 1993 with a 75-60 win on Thursday night. The Seminoles will advance to take on No. 3-seed Michigan with a trip to the Final Four on the line. They have not been to a Final Four since 1972, which was the last Elite 8 before their last Elite 8.

Put another way, the program that has been ignored all season long has been to precisely one Elite 8 since 1972.

That’s a long time to be irrelevant.

So I guess it’s time that we all started to pay attention.

And here’s the interesting part of this: The Seminoles are actually a fun team to watch this year. This is not the kind of grind-it-out Florida State teams that we have become accustomed to with Leonard Hamilton at the helm of this program. They don’t try to play as many enormous human beings at one time as they can. Florida State plays a lot of small-ball. They have a lot of physical, athletic and switchable defenders. They press. They try to force turnovers. They get out and run in transition. They have a couple dudes; Mann and Braian Angola and M.J. Carter. They’re not exactly VCU and they’re not exactly West Virginia and they’re not exactly last season’s South Carolina, but there’s a little bit of all of them there.

And that’s what did Gonzaga in.

The Zags entered this game short-handed, as their starting five-man Killian Tillie was unable to go due to a hip injury that he aggravated during warmups, but that would not have made all that much of a difference in the Staples Center.

The issue was guard play.

Florida State’s pressure simply overwhelmed Gonzaga’s guards. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell were a combined 10-for-36 from the floor and had a nightmare-of-a-time trying to get the ball into the lane. The Zags committed 13 turnovers, trailed by 12 within the first ten minutes of the game and never really made a run keeping this thing within striking distance.

If there was an issue with Tillie being out, it came when Gonzaga tried to space the floor.

The Zags were playing without enough shooters, particularly in the front court. That clogged the paint and made it difficult for the likes of Johnathan Williams III and Rui Hachimura to get some space down there to operate. Perhaps the most telling stat on Thursday — more than Gonzaga’s 34 percent shooting or the 5-for-20 that they shot from three — was that the Zags were 8-for-27 on layups on the night.


For 27.


And it makes me wonder just how Michigan is going to be able to handle this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’ll get to it in time.

For now, it is time for the Seminoles and their fans to basket in this moment.

They were right, we were wrong.