A jubilant bunch of Bruins during a break in this year’s NCAA tournament action
HOW I SEE THE BRUINS FARING IN HOUSTON AGAINST 2ND-SEEDED GONZAGA
I’ll try to make this as short and sweet (no pun intended) as possible.
Thanks to an unexpected and – to many pundits and folks outside the UCLA community – controversial win over SMU and a much more expected triumph over Alabama-Birmingham,
Well, let’s put it like this…
There are sixteen teams left in this year’s NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament, and this 11th-seeded Bruin basketball squad (the lowest seed remaining) is one of them.
I know this won’t sit well with my fellow members of Bruin Nation, but until UAB scored their big upset of 3rd-seeded Iowa State, while I gave coach Steve Alford’s team a toss-up chance against SMU, I did not give them a nickel’s chance of advancing past that first weekend.
So ironically enough, UCLA fans should give UAB’s Blazers much credit and thanks for beating Iowa State, as that opened the door for the Bruins to have a much easier road to the Sweet 16 in beating UAB rather handily.
Indeed, in becoming one of the sixteen teams left in the “Big Dance”, for the second year in a row I see this band of Bruins as having exceeded expectations.
Especially when you consider the ineptness that they showed in December in losing five straight games, which included perhaps the worst performance in program history in scoring just seven points in the first half of a woodshed butchering at the hands of probable undefeated national champion Kentucky.
I readily admit that I had written them off, declaring the basketball season over, after that fiasco, not just for that loss but for the impression UCLA gave of not even trying that day.
I also readily admit that I had made a mistake as they showed their resilience in becoming a different enough team by the end of the season to score an NCAA Tournament bid, thus proving me wrong as I still felt their 13 losses would turn the selection committee off and give them a one-way ticket to the NIT.
All right, the inevitable question awaits…
How do I see my alma mater’s fate unfolding against their upcoming opponent, the Bulldogs of Gonzaga?
A team that gave the Bruins their only home loss back in those dark days of December.
These Zags from Spokane, WA, a program that has made their West Coast Conference – which incidentally features two Los Angeles-area teams, Westchester’s Loyola Marymount Lions and Malibu’s Pepperdine Waves – a joke in that they dominated that league every year for a long, long time, are favored on a pronounced scale to take care of UCLA and advance to the Elite Eight.
ESPN has given them an 85% chance of winning on Friday.
And as much as I hate to say it as a Bruin alum, while I give the Bruins a better than 15% chance, I honestly don’t think they have enough personnel, namely their bench as they have played all season without one, to beat those Zags.
In other words, although I see UCLA as giving Gonzaga a battle, a loss and an exit from the tournament will not surprise me in the least; though I certainly hope otherwise.
Which to me is ultimately OK for this reason:
Due to their unexpectedly making the Sweet 16, these Bruins are playing with house money.
Their best chance to win can be summed up in seven words:
PLAY LIKE THEY HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE.
Which they honestly don’t, and which will make them that much more dangerous as it’s an international concept in sports to take a team with nothing to lose very seriously, no matter how bad they may seem to be.
If this squad from Westwood approaches Gonzaga with that mindset, an upset, while realistically unlikely, will be possible.
And if what so many see as inevitable does indeed happen, these Bruin hoopsters and their Bruin Nation fan base should still be proud of how the team improved and what they have accomplished this postseason.
And fervently pray that this key player below, Kevon Looney, does not opt for the NBA draft.