If you want to hear an encouraging perspective on UCLA basketball listen to Billy Donovan's post game interview. He was extremely impressed with our team. He began by saying (bold mine):
"I'm going to say, I know people get maybe carried away, UCLA was as good as any team we've played all year long."
That's really saying something given that Florida played Ohio St the #1 team in the nation this year as well as Kentucky in addition to two other ranked teams Kansas St. and Xavier. And in the way he prefaced his remarks he was making clear that he really meant what he said. These were not your usual gracious platitudes, and if you listen to the interview you can see that he was genuinely very impressed with our team. He added that no team this year had been able to out rebound his team like UCLA did in the first half.
He then went on to say (bold mine again),
"I think when you lose really good players to the draft as UCLA has, I think Ben has done an unbelievable job. I mean he's got a terrific team and they are going to be really really good going forward. They're all young, they're all coming back, they're physical, they're strong, they shoot 3's, they're athletic, they can do a lot of different things and certainly we were as tested by them as any team we played all year."
He was obviously very impressed with the quality of our players. (He might not have been correct in saying that they are all coming back.)
It isn't easy getting to the sweet sixteen especially when you have to play a #2 seed in the second round. Look at Pittsburgh a #1 seed who didn't make it today. Even with a truly elite team there's no guarantee of going far in the tournament. Without Darren Collison's heroics we would have lost to Texas A&M in the second round, and that was a team with Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook. And our 1995 national championship team would have lost in the second round to Missouri without Tyus Edney's amazing 3.3 second full court drive and amazing basket at the buzzer. And in both those games we were a #1 seed playing and almost losing to a #8 seed. Today we had to play a #2 seed which is typically a matchup we have seen in the regional finals (elite 8) not in the second round.
I myself was very satisfied with our play in the tournament. After the debacle against Oregon in the Pac 10 Tournament I feared we might lose badly to Michigan St. an experienced team with a great coach that always plays its best in the NCAA tournament. But through most of the game we dominated them except at the end, but we still hung on to win. Against a really good Florida team we played them right down to the wire almost until the last minute in what was essentially a home game for them. Frankly my reaction after watching the two tournament games was that I really didn't realize that we were this good. We looked like we could play with anyone.
If we are better next year, and I think we will be, we should be one of the better teams in the country. We've come a long way forward from last year and ended the season peaking at the right time with our best play in the NCAA tournament where it counts the most. I think we have good reason to be optimistic and excited about the direction we are going.