After the 4th-seeded UCLA Bruins (coming into the game at 27-8 overall) solid 76-59 victory over the 13th-seeded Tulsa Golden Hurricanes in the first round (I will not refer to the first two rounds of 64 and 32 as the 2nd and 3rd rounds under any circumstance), the Bruins faced off against the 12th- seeded Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, who upset the 5th-seed in the South Regional with a 77-75 overtime victory over Shaka Smart and Virginia Commonwealth University.
The Lumberjacks (coming into the game at 32-2 overall) were riding a 29-game winning streak into the contest (longest in the country with Wichita State's loss to Kentucky) and looking to continue their run as Cinderella in March Madness.
The size difference was unbelievably apparent just from watching this contest, but the Lumberjacks stayed competitive and were able to get penetration against the interior of the Bruins defense, with the teams at 12-9 in favor of UCLA through the first TV timeout. Jordan Adams led the way in the early going with 3 points and 2 assists in the first 5 minutes of play.
Out of the break, Jacob Parker converted one of two free throws to make it 12-10 and the Bruins brought in Tony Parker to try and take advantage of the huge size mismatch and also switched to zone defense from the original man-to-man. Parker however, quickly picked up his first foul, allowing Thomas Walkup to tie the game at 12 with 2 free throws and missed an easy short shot on the other end.
Adams stayed hot, scoring the next 4 points of the game and pushing the lead back to 16-12. After the rest of the bench came in, Kyle Anderson nailed a 3-pointer (off of Adams' 3rd assist) to push the lead to 7 into the 2nd TV timeout of the first half.
The Lumberjacks were unable to take advantage of two turnovers by Bryce Alford and a missed free throw by Anderson, missing 4 of their next 5 shots out of the timeout and turning it over themselves. A 3-pointer by Desmond Haymon closed it to 20-17, but Norman Powell drew a foul and made both foul shots. Thomas Walkup and Bryce Alford traded shots on drives to the basket to make it 24-19 with 7:24 to go.
Three made foul shots (2 by Anderson and 1 by Zach LaVine), a big 3 by Bryce Alford and a nice dish by LaVine to Adams for the finish put the Bruins on an 8-2 run out of the 3rd TV timeout to take a double digit lead at 32-21 with 5:41 to go.
The only points in the next two minutes were back-to-back 3-pointers by Deshaunt Walker from the exact same spot on the court, cutting the lead to 32-27, but Tony Parker battled inside for a pair of buckets on the next trip to slow the momentum.
The Bruins closed out the first with an 8-3 run to take a 42-32 lead at halftime. Adams (12 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists) and Anderson (11 points and 3 boards) led the way for the Bruins in the first, while Walkup and Haymon provided 21 of the Lumberjacks' 32 points.
Norman Powell came out on fire on both ends to start the 2nd half. Starting with a dunk, getting a rebound, finishing in transition with a fantastic behind-the-back move, knocking the ball away twice on the next Lumberjack possession. The Bruins were quickly up 46-32.
The fire was quelled, as the Lumberjacks answered with a quick 7-0 run to get the lead under 10 again, before Powell finished an Anderson assist with another dunk to make it 50-39.
Another pretty assist through traffic by Anderson, who went without one in the first half, saw Travis Wear finish an alley-oop and on the next possession, Anderson finished with a dunk of his own to make it 54-41. Travis Wear made another jumper to finish a 10-2 run and take a 56-41 lead into a Lumberjacks timeout.
The run continued with a Jordan Adams finish off of a nice pass by David Wear before the Lumberjacks answered with a Walkup jumpshot, making it 58-43 into a TV timeout at 10:54 left in the 2nd half.
The two teams went 6-7 (in favor of SFA) over the next 5+ minutes, with the score 64-50 with under 6 minutes to go.
After a Powell bucket, the Bruins led by 16 points with time dwindling down for the Lumberjacks. Jordan Adams was having none of the Lumberjacks comeback attempt, scoring 5 straight points for the Bruins to make it 71-53. On the next possession, Bryce Alford made an outstanding drive and dish to Parker for the bucket to make it a 20-point lead with just 2:36 left.
After that, it was just a matter of getting to the final buzzer, as the game finished with the score 77-60 and the bench got to finish out the final minute.
Norman Powell (16 points on 6-9 with 3 steals and outstanding defense throughout), Jordan Adams (19 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists) and Kyle Anderson (15 points and 8 rebounds) were the leaders for the Bruins. But every major rotation player except Zach LaVine really shined in this one at moments.
The Wears combined for a near triple-double (9 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists). Tony Parker and Bryce Alford both contributed strong minutes off the bench (8 points and 9 points, respectively).
The story of the night was really the offensive prowess of the Bruins as a team. Anytime a team has an assist-to-turnover ratio as drastic as (21 assists to just 3 turnovers), that team is probably going to win by a considerable margin and that is exactly what happened.
The game would not have been that close if the Bruins had converted some close range buckets early on and if Anderson hadn't mysteriously struggled at the foul line (4-8).
The Bruins (28-8) now move on to the Sweet Sixteen later this week to face the top overall seed in the tournament in the Florida Gators (34-2) who are fresh off of their 61-45 beatdown of 9th-seeded Pittsburgh.
If there was ever a time to get the Florida monkey off of UCLA's hypothetical shoulders, that time is now. With Kyle Anderson as the best player left in the South Region, Norman Powell peaking at the right time and strong contributions from the entire rotation, there is a chance for UCLA to make a run to the Final 4.
Chase down #111. Go Bruins!