UCLA busts brackets on way to Final Four


By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

All of you who had UCLA making it to the NCAA Final Four deserve no congratulations whatsoever, because you are just hard-core Bruins fans who always pick them to make the Final Four.

No one examining the brackets at the start of March Madness two weeks ago could have been justified in picking the Bruins to go this far. I had them making it to the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8 but that is only because they played Michigan State in the play-in game and I felt that was like betting on two blue bloods of college basketball for the price of one pick.

That pick looked good after the Bruins escaped that play-in game with Michigan State, overcoming a 14-point lead and winning in overtime. I felt confident with that pick as the Bruins defeated Brigham Young, Abilene Christian (an upset winner over Texas), and even Alabama, a second-seed.

The Bruins have a team that plays tough, hard-nosed defense and they still can recruit top-notch basketball players, even if that well ran kind of dry with Steve Alford as the coach.

I am also a firm supporter of Pac 12 basketball. The reason there aren’t many Pac 12 teams racked in the Top 25 is that Pac 12 teams beat up on each other during conference play. It’s impossible to win every game in that conference.

But I figured the Bruins’ run through the NCAA Tournament would end March 30 against Michigan, the top seed in the regional and one of the top 5 teams in the country most of the year. Wrong.

In a game that was tight throughout, the Bruins prevailed 51-49 over Michigan, ensuring the Pac 12 will have a team in the Final Four.

It could have been a USC-UCLA battle in the Final Four April 3, but the Trojans were thoroughly outclassed by top-ranked Gonzaga, 85-66, in a game that was never very close.

The Bruins now get to try their hand against Gonzaga, which is seeking its first national title after beating among the elite in men’s college basketball for close to 20 years.

At first glance, the Bruins don’t appear to have much of a chance against the Zags. Many people figured USC would give them more of a battle because of the size of the Mobley brothers.

But Gonzaga’s sophomore center Drew Timme scored 8 points in a row early as Gonzaga jumped out to a 19-6 lead and never looked back. Timme finished with 23.

Evan Mobley ended up with 17 points and his brother Isaiah had 19 to lead the Trojans, but Isaiah White, who scored 22 points against Kansas March 28, was held to 2 by Gonzaga, which could become the first Division 1 team since Indiana in 1976 to go undefeated for an entire year if it wins its final two games.

If the Trojans couldn’t contain Gonzaga, how can the Bruins? USC defeated the Bruins twice this season, a blow-out home win early in the season and a 64-63 win at Pauley Pavilion in the last game of the regular season.

The Trojans had the Mobley brothers down low to contend with Timme. The Bruins have Cody Ross and not much else.

And the Zags have better depth and probably better players.

But UCLA is on a roll that has them feeling confident and able to beat anybody.

Gonzaga hopes to gain revenge for UCLA’s  73-71 win in the Sweet 16 in 2006 that ended a dream season at the time for the Zags.

In that game, Gonzaga led by 17 in the first half and UCLA had to score the last 11 points of the game to win.

Gonzaga knocked the Bruins out of the Sweet 16 in 2015 and the team that has been the most dominant West Coast team for the last 15 years is hoping to become the first team west of the Mississippi River to win the NCAA title since Kansas did it in 2008.

UCLA coach Mitch Cronin has the Bruins playing high-energy defense. The Bruins win against Alabama March 28 to get to the Elite 8 was an outstanding show of teamwork.

Six Bruins scored in double figures, but no player had more than 17 points. Alabama tied the game with a three-point shot at the buzzer in regulation, but the Bruins shrugged it off and outscored the Tide 23-13 in overtime.

It will take a defensive masterpiece to knock off Gonzaga April 3, but Cronin’s players seem to rise to the occasion. Can they do it two more times?

OPENING DAY: The Dodgers open the defense of their first World Series title in 32 years April 1, beginning a four-day series in Colorado. The Dodgers open their home schedule April 9 and it looks like there will be fans allowed inside Dodger Stadium this year.

With the county scheduled to move to the orange tier of the state blueprint for dealing with the coronavirus, they can have as many as 18,000 fans in the stadium for a game.

Expect higher than normal prices for tickets if you are willing to brave the crowds already. I think I will stick to television for a while longer.

The Dodgers might have trouble getting ready mentally for this season. Most experts are picking them to become the first team since the 2000 Yankees to win back-to-back World Series.

Their pitching staff is deeper and the two major defections from last season’s team — platoon outfielder Joc Pederson and utility player Kike Hernandez — should be easily replaced, particularly if young second baseman Gavin Lux is ready for the spotlight (he wasn’t last year).

Dodger fans will fret every time Kenley Jansen takes the mound in a close game in the ninth inning, but that figures to be the Dodgers biggest concern on their way to a ninth straight National League West championship.

If Jansen falters early, manager Dave Roberts has lots of people to plug into that role. Closer by committee may be the way to go.

BITS AND PIECES: Signing Andre Drummond to play center may have saved the Lakers season. Drummond is only 27 and is among the best rebounders in the league.

He can score but he doesn’t have to get a lot of touches to have an impact on the game. The Lakers need to whether the current storm of injuries that have seen LeBron James and Anthony Davis sidelined.

Getting those two players healthy for the playoffs in May would seem to be the Lakers chief concern right now. …

Mark your calendar for Feb. 13, 2022. That is the day the NFL set for Super Bowl LVI in SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. The NFL announced the date this week at the same time they announced the league would expand to a 17-game schedule for next year.

Teams will play only three exhibitions games now.

It will be the eighth time a Super Bowl has been played in the L.A. region. Two, including the first one in 1967, were played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The other five were held at the Rose Bowl, but the region hasn’t hosted one since 1993. …