On Selection Sunday, when UCLA was announced as the No. 11 seed in the South Region, there was outrage and confusion. A week later, the tournament party crashers will still be dancing along with 15 other teams, as the Bruins knocked off No. 14 UAB, 92-75, to advance to the Sweet 16.
UCLA was too much inside for the Blazers, who upset darkhorse Final Four pick Iowa State, on Thursday afternoon. The Bruins were plus-15 on the glass with Tony Parker leading the way with 28 points and 12 boards.
As a team, UCLA shot 60 percent from the field with 50 points coming in the paint.
Steve Alford made his first Sweet 16 at Southwest Missouri State in 1999. After failing to reach the Sweet 16 during stops at Iowa and New Mexico, Alford is back in the regional semifinals for the second year in a row.
But how impressive has this two-year stretch been?
In 2014, UCLA knocked off No. 13 Tulsa only to get No. 12 Stephen F. Austin — not No. 5 VCU — in the following round. UCLA was then eliminated by top-ranked Florida in the next round.
Some will point to this year’s Sweet 16 run as validation that the Bruins should have been included in the field. Yes, UCLA lost a host of talent players, but four wins over Washington, Washington State and USC (twice) doesn’t quantify “gaining steam” and a “good strength of schedule” should include a non-conference win better than Long Beach State.
UCLA’s Sweet 16 run has been aided by a controversial goaltending call to get past SMU in the Round of 64, and drawing another double-digit seed in the Round of 32.
SMU, a team that never got star recruit Emmanuel Mudiay and lost two more players during the course of this season, is UCLA’s best tournament win in the last two years by far.
Regardless, it still goes down as another Sweet 16 appearance, and the Bruins will be still be playing next week. They’ll get the winner of No. 2 Gonzaga and No. 7 Iowa. Let’s see if UCLA has enough steam for a national title contender or Alford’s former team.