• Tue. Mar 21st, 2023

UCLA appears all business enterprise in NCAA tournament opener rout more than UNC Asheville


Mar 17, 2023

UCLA’s Amari Bailey, left, and Tyger Campbell celebrate on the bench against UNC Asheville in the second half of the initial round of the NCAA tournament in Sacramento on Thursday. UCLA won 86-53. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Occasions)

No Furman right here. No Princeton right here. No late craziness or shocking weirdness or shining momentousness right here.

No Cinderella, only smashing pumpkins.

UCLA was not going to shed its NCAA initial-round tournament game to 18-point underdog North Carolina Asheville at the Golden 1 Center on Thursday evening.

No way. No how. Not for all the madness in the planet. This was evident in the initial 3 minutes, which went roughly as follows:

UCLA layup. Asheville brick. UCLA two no cost throws. Asheville brick. UCLA trey. Asheville brick. UCLA dunk. Asheville brick. UCLA dunk. Asheville turnover. UCLA trey.


By the time the horribly overmatched Bulldogs could catch their breath, UCLA led 14-, and it was more than. A couple of hours later the final score was 86-53, and the final message was a single that need to resonate via this maddening March landscape.

UCLA is not messing about.

UCLA is not going to be Arizona or Virginia, two respected teams that fell in giant initial-day upsets. UCLA is not taking their No. two seeding for granted. UCLA is starting their march to the Final 4 in a sprint. Their subsequent cease on this treacherous journey is Saturday right here in the second round against resurgent Northwestern, a group that also took its initial round seriously with a powerful win more than Boise State.

Judging from Thursday night’s intensity and concentrate, retain betting the Bruins.

From the moment UCLA lost to Arizona final weekend in the Pac-12 tournament championship game, UCLA coach Mick Cronin knew it was on.

“They ran into a buzz saw tonight,” mentioned Cronin. “We do not take losing properly at UCLA … we spell exciting w-i-n and we lost our final game and these guys took it individual and you saw how we came out.”

Asheville seemed like a decent group. They had won 18 of their final 19 games, they had been Large South champions, they had a couple of premier players …

And UCLA produced them appear like a dazed higher college squad that wandered into the incorrect health club.

“I was really flustered at the starting of the game,” acknowledged Asheville star Drew Pember. “I had no thought what it was going to be like.”

It was like, relentless. It was like, overwhelming. It was like, UCLA wearing its Cronin finest. “Our defensive intensity and our deflections early in the game, I consider, genuinely rattled them,” mentioned Cronin. “They could never ever genuinely get comfy.”

UCLA's Amari Bailey and Jaime Jaquez Jr. battle for a rebound with UNC Asheville's Fletcher Abee.

UCLA’s Amari Bailey, left and Jaime Jaquez Jr. battle for a rebound with UNC Asheville’s Fletcher Abee in the initial half of the initial round of the NCAA tournament in Sacramento on Thursday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Occasions)

The Bruins defense forced the Bulldogs into many clanking shots, wild airballs, wayward passes and mass confusion. And the Bruins did it devoid of their giant stopper, Adem Bona, who was cleared to play but kept on the bench whilst he continues to recover from a shoulder injury. They also didn’t endure from the absence of Jaylen Clark, their defensive leader who is out for the season with an Achilles injury.

They’ll certainly miss Clark later. Bona is going to have to ultimately play if they want to advance. But for now, the Bruins’ veteran savvy and unflinching mindset appears much more strong than any a single player.

“We attempt to get the young guys to … realize that this is a single-and-out tournament and we do not want this to finish,” mentioned Jaime Jaquez Jr., a single of Bruins’ 3 veteran leaders.

The NCAA tournament is well-known for its initial-round upsets, but much more telling is its initial-round blowouts. A single can inform if a very good group is prepared for greatness by how they manage their business enterprise in their opening game against an inferior opponent.

Teams that seriously contend for championships generally start their journey with a rout. Judging from Thursday evening, UCLA appears like a single of these teams, just verify out the functionality of these 3 senior spark plugs.

Jaquez was the cool leader with 17 points. Campbell was at his playmaking finest with ten assists. And David Singleton, just after going scoreless in the Pac-12 tournament championship game against Arizona, scored the game’s initial basket and connected on 3 treys.

To all this, add freshman Amari Bailey’s smooth Madness debut with 17 points and backup center Kenneth Nwuba’s 4-for-4 evening, and the Bulldogs never ever stood a possibility.

“It was just a surreal feeling,” mentioned Bailey, a crucial to the team’s continued very good fortune. “I imply, I just had chills operating via my physique.”

You want surreal? How about well-liked stroll-on Russell Stong truly played in the final two minutes of an NCAA tournament game and, even right here, the crowd roared.

A couple of weeks from now, this game will possibly be remembered as irrelevant. But thinking about UCLA’s history, it is a massive deal.

Try to remember, for college that has won an NCAA-record 11 national titles, the Bruins nevertheless have a sordid history of losing these initial-round games.

The season ahead of they won the national title in 1995, they lost in the initial round to Tulsa. The season just after they won the title, they lost in the initial round to Princeton.

Each of these losses had been pinned on Jim Harrick teams, but Harrick wasn’t the only coach who has been stung.

There was Detroit Mercy defeating Steve Lavin’s Bruins in 1999. Then, probably in the ugliest early exit, Steve Alford’s Bruins lost to St. Bonaventure on a snowy evening in Dayton, Ohio, in the 2018 play-in game.

Cronin has flirted with initial-round losses in each and every of his two tournaments due to the fact becoming the Bruins coach, his group escaping Michigan State in overtime in 2021 and then winning by 4 against Akron final season.

This is not a single of these seasons. This is not a single of these teams. And on Thursday evening, the college basketball planet witnessed it.

“It does not surprise me … these guys are educated,” mentioned Cronin. “We play to win at UCLA.”

Earlier in the week, Campbell echoed that sentiment. “We’re right here to win games, that is what we’re just attempting to do,” Campbell mentioned. We’re not genuinely worried about everyone else.”

Certainly, everyone else may well will need to be worried about them.

This story initially appeared in Los Angeles Occasions.