PORTLAND — All the UCLA Bruins, the team who was thisclose to playing for the national championship last season, had to do to understand the magnitude of the Madness that was occurring around them as they took the floor for their first-round NCAA Tournament game was to look up at the Jumbotron. One blue blood basketball program was going down in a shock upset for all of the Moda Center to see…including the Bruins.
Another blue blood took it to heart to make sure they did not suffer the same fate in what turned out to be another wild start to another NCAA Tournament.
The Big Dance started in earnest on Thursday, and though the City of Roses had the tamest results in terms of upsets of the four cities that launched the NCAA Tournament today, the games did feature close calls and the drama that has been missing in college basketball since the pre-pandemic days of 2019.
In tonight’s nightcap, the fourth-seeded Bruins found themselves down seven with six minutes remaining before a 15-4 game-ending run finally put away upset-minded Akron 57-53. UCLA already saw an upset in front of their eyes, as they watched the the final stages of Saint Peter’s massive upset of Kentucky in Indianapolis on the big screen while warming up on the lay-up lines.
UCLA avoided the upset behind point guard Tyger Campbell, who went on a personal 8-0 run to turn a 51-47 deficit into a 55-51 Bruins lead, capped off by a long three-pointer late in the shot clock that proved to be the game-winning shot. The Bruins will now play fellow Golden State school Saint Mary’s, the No. 5 seed, who used hot shooting all game long to dispatch No. 12 Indiana 82-53 in the first game of the evening session.
It was Gonzaga who vanquished the Bruins in last year’s national semifinals on Jalen Suggs’ halfcourt heave at the buzzer, and the Bulldogs, at least for 27 minutes, were staring the wrong end of NCAA Tournament history in the face as No. 16 Georgia State held a 54-52 lead with under 13 minutes remaining. The Zags came alive, however, shooting a blistering 58 percent in the second half and scoring 42 points in the paint in the final 20 minutes to race past the Panthers 93-72 in the second game of the afternoon session. Drew Timme scored 22 of his 32 points in the second half for Gonzaga, who have had issues in the past in the first round as a No. 1 seed and has let the No. 16 seed hang for at least a half.
Memphis will await the Bulldogs on on Saturday after the ninth-seeded Tigers won their first NCAA Tournament game since 2014 with a 64-53 victory over No. 8 Boise State in the day’s first game. Freshman Jalen Duren had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Tigers, who saw a 19-point halftime lead be whittled down to five before reasserting themselves to see off the Broncos.