INDIANAPOLIS – There was no panic. No jitters.
UCLA had its Sweet 16 matchup in hand at the end of regulation against two-seed Alabama, before a miraculous, well–crafted inbounds play led to a game-tying 3-pointer by Alabama senior forward Alex Reese with 0.4 of a second left in regulation.
It was a crushing shot, one that could have affected UCLA players heading into overtime. But the 11th-seeded Bruins, counted out many times before during their postseason run, had other plans.
“We knew that we had nothing to worry about,” UCLA forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. said. “This was March. Things like that happen all the time. That’s something that we’re used to, going into overtime games and winning those games.”
UCLA scored the first seven points of the overtime, never letting Alabama regain momentum from its big shot. By the time the five-minute overtime session was over, the Bruins were the ones celebrating on the floor at Hinkle Fieldhouse, with players doing a jig in front of their fans following a hard-fought, 88-78 overtime win over the Crimson Tide on Sunday night.
“’When you are in that situation and you have that happen to you at the buzzer, you have every reason to fold,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said.
Cronin was even kicking himself a bit for not fouling before Reese got the game-tying 3-point shot off but was concerned Alabama coach Nate Oats had intercepted his intentions and would have told his players to try to hoist up a half-court shot as they were fouled.
“If we just make one rotation and choke that side of the floor down, we steal that pass. They don’t get that shot off,” Cronin said. “But that being said, I am a foul (proponent in that situation), but that was my concern, us going to foul at half-court, and they would shoot. Obviously the kids bailed me out. They played great in overtime.”
UCLA started overtime with a 3-pointer from David Singleton, then a steal and runout basket by guard Tyger Campbell, then another pull-up jumper from Singleton to go up 72-65. After a putback from Alabama senior forward Herbert Jones cut UCLA’s lead to 74-70 with 2:05 left in overtime, Jaquez sank a huge shot, a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock to extend UCLA’s lead back to 77-70 with 1:37 left.
“Those were definitely shots I practice at the park, just imagining being in March Madness, being the go-ahead bucket like that,” Jaquez said. “My mentality - I saw the shot clock winding down, and I knew we needed a big shot, so I just took the shot.”
Jaquez and Jules Bernard led six UCLA scorers in double figures with 17 points apiece. The Bruins (21-9) also got 15 points from Singleton, 13 points from Campbell and 13 points from Johnny Juzang, who fouled out near the end of regulation.
It was a heartbreaking finish to the season for second-seed Alabama (26-7), which had an eight game win streak snapped after winning both the SEC regular season and tournament titles. The Crimson Tide were done in with poor shooting from both the 3-point line (7-of-28, 25%) and free-throw line (11-of-25, 44%). Sophomore guard Jahvon Quinerly led Alabama with 20 points, with senior guard John Petty Jr. adding 16 points.
“We held them to seven 3s, which I thought was a big key in the game,” Cronin said.
With the win, 11th-seed UCLA will face top-seed Michigan on Tuesday night for its first Elite Eight appearance since 2008. The surprise run for the Bruins began with an overtime win over Michigan State in the First Four, followed by wins over BYU and Abilene Christian.
“We’re definitely a confident team,” Jaquez said. “We definitely believe in ourselves when no one else was or did, so we just believe in each other every single day and knew if we got this opportunity we were going to take full advantage.”
Bernard scored 13 points in the first half, helping UCLA build a 40-29 halftime lead. UCLA shot 45.5% from the field in the first half and 46.7% (7-of-15) from 3-point range.
Jones got in early foul trouble for Alabama, picking up two offensive fouls in the game’s first 41 seconds. Jones, the SEC’s player of the year, returned to play six minutes in the first half but was out of rhythm, finishing with more turnovers (two) than points (none).
Even with Jones on the bench, Alabama was able to dig out of an early 7-1 hole, scoring 13 straight points to take a 14-7 lead. The Tide went up 19-11 on a Quinerly layup before UCLA started its comeback. A 3-pointer by Juzang cut Alabama’s lead to 21-20. Then, with Alabama up 25-22, UCLA went on an 8-0 run, with a Bernard 3-pointer giving the Bruins a 30-25 lead.
Bernard then converted a four-point play, sinking a 3-pointer as he was fouled by Quinerly, to extend UCLA’s lead to 37-27. Bernard’s fourth 3-pointer of the first half put UCLA up 40-29, a lead it took into halftime.
“It was very important to try to set the tone for the rest of the game,” Jaquez said. “We knew we were going to get up in them on defense, getting as many stops as we could. When you have good defense, that usually transitions into good offense. So making sure we set that tone early in the game really helped us for the rest of the game.”