basketball, Big Dance, Bruin Nation, Bruins, college basketball, Lady Bruins, March Madness, NCAA Tournament, Pac-12 Conference, Pauley Pavilion, Sweet Sixteen, UCLA, UCLA Basketball, UCLA Bruins, UCLA Women's Basketball, University of California Los Angeles, Westwood, Women's Basketball
NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinals:
#3 seed UCLA BRUINS vs #2 seed KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Friday, March 24, 6:40 p.m.
Fed Ex Arena, Memphis, TN
TV: CBS Channel 2
A highlight clip of UCLA’s second round win over Cincinnati. Courtesy of YouTube
Normally I eschew doing game previews on this site – save for the Crosstown Rivalry football game between UCLA and USC – as there are plenty of sports sites where previews of games abound.
And while this is not a game preview per se, the fact that the men’s and women’s basketball programs at my collegiate alma mater are about to embark on the most important regional semifinals in their history can not be ignored as by the end of this weekend, the two squads at UCLA – particularly the women – will either be seen as programs among the truly elite of just another couple of good teams.
For coach Steve Alford’s band of Bruin men, they won’t just be facing a team in the Sweet 16 that’s extremely bent on avenging their losses to the Bruins these past two seasons, their loss this past December 3rd breaking a 42-game home losing streak.
Like UCLA, the Kentucky Wildcats are college basketball royalty with a long and prestigious history; only the Bruins have more national championships (11) than Kentucky’s eight.
UCLA’s Lonzo Ball going against a Kentucky player during the last time the two elite teams faced each other. Photo courtesy of dgnews.sduhsd.net
The fact that the Wildcats’ losses to UCLA, 87-77 at Pauley Pavilion in 2015 and 97-92 at Rupp Arena in Lexington this season, happened while they were ranked #1 only fuels Big Blue Nation’s quest for revenge.
Any blue blooded elite program would feel that way.
Which is why I consider this upcoming game – and weekend, for that matter – to be the biggest in Bruin history as Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, Bryce Alford and company will have to play the best game of their lives to overcome Kentucky’s desire for vengeance.
While in front of a crowd that figures to be about 95% Wildcat fans.
Ike Anigbogu, whose defense prowess will be crucial to the Bruins’ chances this weekend. Photo courtesy of latimes.com
True, they have already silenced Big Blue Nation once this year, but that was in the regular season.
This is the NCAA Tournament, where one team will be going home by roughly 10:00 p.m. on Friday.
And if UCLA does beat the Wildcats, another elite blue blood, North Carolina, will likely be awaiting them in the Elite Eight.
Now do you see why I consider this weekend to be so crucially huge?
Put it like this: If those Bruins do beat Kentucky and North Carolina’s Tar Heels, who happen to be the top seed in their regional, and go on to win their 12th national championship, it would be extremely well-earned.
UCLA’s Lady Bruins celebrating during their first round game vs Boise State. Photo courtesy of Pac-12.com
And that’s just for the men as for their sisters in blue and gold…
NCAA Women’s Tournament Regional Semifinals:
#4 seed UCLA BRUINS vs #1 seed and top-ranked CONNECTICUT HUSKIES
Saturday, March 25, 10:30 a.m.
Webster Bank Arena, Bridgeport, CT
The biggest game not only in UCLA women’s basketball history, but in my view the entire history of UCLA women’s sports, will tip-off this Saturday.
This is a game that I feel will, once and for all, define the Bruin women on the hard court because of their opponent…
An opponent that is, without a doubt, the greatest women’s college athletic program ever assembled.
Here’s the evidence:
* A winning streak of 109 games, an all-time college basketball record, with their last loss being to Stanford on November 27, 2014 (which broke a 90 game winning streak), making it an overall run of 199 wins in the past 200 games.
* Four consecutive national championships – eleven overall – and working on a fifth.
* Six undefeated seasons, and working on a seventh.
* A coach in Geno Auriemma whose general-like style has led to a winning percentage (.880) that’s the highest of any college basketball coach’s, men’s or women’s.
* A playing style that has led me to feel that they run up the score as they often beat opponents by 30 to 50 points; there have been only two games this season where the winning margin was less than ten points.
Highlights of the Bruins’ most recent win, a 2nd round blowout over Texas A&M in Pauley Pavilion. Courtesy of YouTube.
While coach Cori Close’s Bruins have had a very good season and have done quite well in the Big Dance so far, whipping Texas A&M by 32 points in the second round,
This is a crystal clear gender flip case of David vs Goliath as roughly 99.99% of the college basketball world doesn’t think that Jordin Canada, Monique Billings and the rest of their Bruin sisters will have any chance whatsoever of beating the Connecticut Huskies.
Especially since the game will be in UConn’s back yard in Bridgeport and about 99.9999% of the fans there will be for the Huskies.
I’m sure that none of that matters to those 21 UCLA players, coaches and staff.
David did beat Goliath.
Muhammad Ali – while he went by the name of Cassius Clay – beat Sonny Liston.
The New York Mets beat the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series.
The New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III earlier that year.
The U.S. Olympic Hockey Team beat the Soviet Union in Lake Placid.
Rocky Balboa beat Apollo Creed (in the second movie).
Hickory High School beat South Bend Central High School in the iconic basketball movie Hoosiers; yes, I know it was based on Milan High School’s Indiana state championship in 1954.
Jordin Canada, the Bruins’ leading scorer, putting up a jump shot against Texas A&M. Photo courtesy of theintellingencer.com
So as far as the UCLA women’s basketball team shocking the sports world and beating mightiest of mighty Connecticut,
That’s the mentality that those Bruin ladies need to take.
A victory would not only shock the college sports world,
It would raise UCLA Women’s basketball to elite status.
And make them true legends in Bruin Nation.
Can they do it?
Can they shock the sports universe and end the UConn dynasty?
We’ll know by roughly 2:00 p.m. Saturday.
UCLA forward Monique Billings (left) with coach Cori Close and guard Kari Korver (#2). Photo courtesy of insidesocal.com