The South region's No. 4-seeded UCLA Bruins led on Friday by five points at halftime and endured a tough test before pulling away from pesky 13th seed Tulsa in a 76-59 second-round NCAA tournament win.
The Golden Hurricane were bidding to be the latest double-digit Cinderella when they staged a valiant come-from-behind effort in the second half, only to fall short to their tradition-rich counterparts. This UCLA win wrapped up the round of 64 and continued a trend of success for the Bruins, per ESPN Stats & Info:
UCLA beats Tulsa 76-59. Bruins have won 6 of their last 7 games in the Round of 64.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 22, 2014
Stephen F. Austin topped VCU in an overtime thriller earlier on Friday, which sets them up with the Bruins in the round of 32 in an exciting Sunday showdown.
The final score was not indicative of how close this contest was down the stretch. Tulsa cut UCLA's lead to five, but a third run of 8-0 or more in the second half culminated in Bruins guard Jordan Adams nailing a dagger three-pointer with just over four minutes left.
That put UCLA up 67-54, and Adams led all scorers with 21 points on a proficient 7-of-12 shooting for the night.
Point guard Kyle Anderson is 6'9" and was a major matchup problem for Tulsa, filling up the stat sheet with eight points, six rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocks. ESPN's Dick Vitale remarked on the brilliance of UCLA's dynamic duo:
Golden Hurricane forward D'Andre Wright was stellar in defeat by scoring a team-best 18 points, but he was just one of two Tulsa players in double figures. The Bruins' combination of superior balance, depth and talent were too much for the underdogs to overcome.
After the Tulsa team he coached came up short, Danny Manning extended his congratulations to UCLA:
This is a new era for Bruins basketball by many measures, though, which has made it difficult to know what to expect from UCLA in 2013-14. A lot of ups and downs have characterized coach Steve Alford's first year at the helm, but the Bruins rode a wave of momentum into March Madness by knocking off Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament final.
Before this game, Alford acknowledged that he is trying to make his mark on the program and establish a refreshing culture, but also implied that the high expectations for UCLA shouldn't change, per UCLABruins.com:
We're laying a foundation, I think that's what year one is about, and I love what we're trying to do from style of play to how we like to play offensively and defensively and the up tempo. I think this is an exciting team to watch, they're unselfish, they work hard, they share the ball. They're so far ahead of where we projected because you look at their numbers, and it's just a fun and exciting team to coach....It's important. You're not at UCLA if it's not important to advance in the NCAA Tournament.
It helps to have some uniquely skilled players such as Anderson and Adams to spearhead the new movement, and with how well the Bruins are playing right now, there's no telling how far they can go.
Adams made a bold proclamation before the tourney, as reported by Alex Kennedy of BasketballInsiders.com:
UCLA's Jordan Adams: "I think we could win it all. With the way we’ve been playing, we can play with any team." http://t.co/MjwhktssqS— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) March 22, 2014
Given that the Bruins beat one of the NCAA tournament's No. 1 seeds in Arizona just before the Big Dance, it makes sense that Adams was oozing with confidence at that time. But then he backed it up by being the best scorer on the court on Friday.
The Lumberjacks are not an opponent UCLA can afford to take lightly, evident by their 32-2 record and the fact that they rallied against such a formidable VCU team to advance. Anderson figures to give the perimeter-oriented Southland Conference champions problems with his length, and Adams should be able to match any production from Stephen F. Austin's backcourt.
As stunning as the Lumberjacks' comeback was versus the Rams, perhaps just as impressive was how UCLA stormed away from the Golden Hurricane after letting them creep within five points late in the game. That should make for some stunning Sunday theatre as the Bruins seek to return among the NCAA's elite while Stephen F. Austin tries to keep its mid-major feel-good story going.