Rushed Reactions: #4 UCLA 77, #12 Stephen F. Austin 60Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 23rd, 2014
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Three Key Takeaways.
- UCLA – Sweet Sixteen. Remember back when this program was absolutely rolling under Ben Howland in the middle of the last decade? That went away fast, sure. But, now for the first time since 2008, the Bruins are back in the Sweet Sixteen, this time under first-year head coach Steve Alford — who himself is back in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1999 at Southwest Missouri State. Picky UCLA fans did not take kindly to Alford upon his hire and they took an even longer time to come around to this fun and exciting young team. But this weekend in San Diego, UCLA fans traveled well, were enthusiastic throughout, and seem to be back on the bandwagon. Their biggest nemesis from the last decade – Florida – is once again in the way. And if things do not go well on Thursday in Memphis, there might be a lot of Bruins’ fans with broken ankles as they jump back off the bandwagon, complaining about an easy path to the Sweet Sixteen and other silliness. But for now, UCLA basketball is cool again.
- Stormin’ Norman. Under Alford, Norman Powell found increased minutes, an increased role, and a level of freedom that he clearly enjoys. For a guy who was rumored to be considering transferring at the end of last season, he turned into a difference-maker for the Bruins this season. And in the postseason (including Pac-12 Tournament play), he’s taken his game to a new level. He has regularly harassed his man on defense into off games (today for instance, he held Friday night’s star Desmond Haymon to 3-of-11 shooting), he got nine steals in five games, and he made countless highlight-reel plays. Today’s best was putting the ball behind his back in transition just prior to laying the ball in deftly between a couple of defenders for a hoop. And then, rather than celebrate his play, he got back on defense and knocked a pass out of bounds to kill an SFA transition attempt.
- Scrappy ‘Jacks. The Lumberjacks, led by sophomore forward Thomas Walkup, are a team that is hard not to like. The bulk of their team is between 6’3” and 6’6”, but they play bigger than their size, they get after it on defense, they sell out for loose balls and they’re just talented enough (seems like everybody can stroke a jumper and make a pretty pass) to play a little finesse game on offense. Walkup in particular won over quite a few fans this weekend. A 6’4” sophomore forward who plays bigger than his size and older than his age, he does just about everything well. He drew early fouls on the bigger UCLA frontcourt, he grabbed eight boards in the first 11 minutes of action he saw, he defended with passion, he was a facilitator for the squad in the high post, he knocked down jumpers; he did everything but hand out water bottles in the huddle. The ‘Jacks lose three seniors, but expect them to be a force in the Southland going forward.
Star of the Game. Kyle Anderson, UCLA. Jordan Adams was awesome, Norman Powell transcendent. But Kyle Anderson is just so versatile. His numbers – 15 points, eight boards, five assists and a three in 36 minutes of action – tell one story. But his game isn’t about numbers. He’s the conductor out there, turning divergent instruments into music. He played with such calm and control and did whatever was asked for him. Heck, for stretches of the game, the 6’9” Anderson was asked to guard 5’9” lightning bug Trey Pinkney – and he did a terrific job.
Sights & Sounds. Stephen F. Austin Did Themselves Proud. You know what the Lumberjacks did on Friday night, but the whole weekend had to be just phenomenal for Stephen F. Austin fans. Sure, they would have loved to win another one and advance, but in the closing moments of a 17-point loss, the good-sized pack of Lumberjacks fans that made the trip got a good chance to give their team a well-deserved ovation, and several members of the team saluted their fans back. This isn’t the kind of moment you’ll see on national television during “One Shining Moment,” but for Lumberjack fans and players, this is a moment they’ll likely remember for years to come.
Wildcard. 22 Assists, Three Turnovers. The Lumberjacks came into the game fourth in the nation in turnover percentage (basically turnovers per possession), and had absolutely no success in turning the Bruins over. UCLA notched 22 assists on their 29 field goals and only turned the ball over three times. That’s a recipe for success for UCLA.
Quotable. “I couldn’t be prouder. We didn’t have a great year. We had a year for the history books. And there won’t be very many teams that win 32 games. And when a coach can wake up every morning and enjoy going to work every day because he knows he gets to work with guys like this, that’s pretty special.” — Stephen F. Austin head coach Brad Underwood on what he told his team after the game.
What’s Next? UCLA will move on to face #1 seed Florida in the Sweet Sixteen on Thursday night in Memphis, a call back to the 2006 and 2007 tournaments, when Joakim Noah and company ended the Bruins’ seasons in the championship game and national semifinals, respectively. As for Stephen F. Austin, round of 64 hero Desmond Haymon graduates, but the Lumberjacks will return six players who earned at least 10 minutes per game this season, including stars Jacob Parker and Thomas Walkup. Forever this squad will be known in Nacogdoches as the team that won 32 games and won the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament game, and in dramatic fashion at that.