A breakdown of UCLA’s historic March Madness run

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Anthony Malta, Staff Writer

Upsets. 

A staple of March Madness. The ultimate bracket busters. 

Everyone loves to see a Cinderella story — to be glued to the television as the underdogs change the course of the tournament. While this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has featured countless, unpredictable upsets, no run comes close to that of the UCLA Bruins.

Ranked 44 out of 68 in the pre-tournament power rankings, the Bruins already had the odds stacked against them. UCLA had lost Chris Smith, one of its leading scorers, to a torn ACL in the regular season and entered the play-in game against Michigan State struggling, winning just five of their final 11 regular season games. 

UCLA did not fare well against tournament-caliber foes,” Bleacher Report said. “The Bruins were swept by USC, lost the other game at Colorado, lost their only games against Oregon and Stanford and lost those non-conference games to Ohio State and San Diego State.”

However, the skeptics could not hold UCLA back.  The Bruins found their groove beating Michigan State in the First Four play-in game and dominating 6-seed BYU and 15-seed Abilene Christain to advance to the Sweet 16. 

But, it was in the Sweet Sixteen when the true upsets began.

“The SEC Champs are dangerous on both ends and have their most talented team since Collin Sexton was in uniform,” NBC Sports writer Vaughn Dalzell said. “Bama ranks second in adjusted defensive efficiency and 34th on offense.”

Alabama, a two seed, was a robust team who had a chance to win it all. Or so they thought. 

Although the Crimson Tide edged the Bruins in field goal percentage and rebounds, they could not keep up with the defense of UCLA, turning the ball over 14 times. Bama also shot an abysmal 44% from the free throw line, which doesn’t hold a candle to the Bruin’s 80%. Because of this, UCLA pulled off its first major upset, defeating Alabama 88-78.

The largest bracket-buster of them all was UCLA’s Elite Eight matchup against the one seed Michigan Wolverines — a defensive battle that came down to the final minutes. 

Michigan outperformed the Bruins in every statistical category besides free throw percentage, but the Bruins’ offense came in clutch with about a minute left in the game. UCLA’s Johnny Juzang — their leading scorer throughout the tournament — hit what would be the game winner, bringing the score to 50-47. The Wolverines were unable to convert from three to earn a trip to the Final Four, which made the Bruins only the fifth 11-seed ever to make the NCAA tournament’s final four.

The Bruins now look to beat the tournament’s ultimate powerhouse Gonzaga —a seemingly impossible victory considering the Bulldogs are currently 30-0 this season. If UCLA pulls it off, it would be one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history; if they don’t, this outstanding Cinderella story does not have a fairytale ending.