UCLA was down five points with 89 seconds to go against Michigan State in the First Four.
Now, the Bruins are headed to the men’s Final Four.
UCLA completed its miraculous run through the East Region with a 51–49 victory over No. 1 seed Michigan. The Bruins, who spent Selection Sunday sweating after losing their last four regular season games, are headed to the Final Four for the first time since the program’s run of three straight that ended in 2008.
This was a gritty, defensive-minded affair that harkened back memories of head coach Mick Cronin’s days at the helm of the Cincinnati men’s program. The Bruins scored just four points in the game’s first 10 minutes. But Cronin’s club got the offensive spark it needed from Johnny Juzang, who scored 14 straight Bruin points at one point and tallied 18 of the team’s 27 points in the first half. Meanwhile, UCLA tightened the screws defensively, limiting star Michigan big man Hunter Dickinson to just four points in the first half to carry a 27–23 lead into intermission.
Three free throws by Juzang less than two minutes into the second half gave UCLA its largest lead of nine. The Wolverines quickly fought back, and the game remained incredibly tight into the closing moments. UCLA found a way to get clutch stops even as the offense bogged down while Juzang was temporarily sidelined after re-injuring his ankle, holding a Michigan offense that had scored 75 or more points in each of its first three NCAA tournament games to a season-low 49.
A big three by Michigan’s Chaundee Brown tied the game at 46 with 5:23 to go—and was the last field goal the Wolverines would make. A baseline drive and finish by Juzang gave UCLA a 50–47 lead with 1:05 to play before Franz Wagner answered with a pair of free throws. After a Michigan stop, Wagner had an open look from three to take the lead that came up woefully short, and Eli Brooks’s put-back also wouldn’t drop. Juzang split a pair of free throws to give Michigan one last chance, but last-gasp threes by Mike Smith and Wagner both wouldn’t drop to send Westwood into euphoria.
Juzang led all scorers with 28 points, while point guard Tyger Campbell added 11 for the Bruins. Michigan was led by 11 points from Dickinson and eight each from Brooks, Brown and Brandon Johns Jr.
While the Bruins are no strangers to the biggest stage in college basketball, it’s the first trip of Cronin’s career. Cronin, whose main knock as a candidate for the job was his lack of March success, now has brought the storied UCLA program back to the Final Four.
UCLA becomes just the second team ever to go from the First Four to the Final Four, joining a VCU team coached by Shaka Smart back in 2011. The Bruins’ reward? A date with undefeated Gonzaga, which looked every bit like a juggernaut in an 85–66 win over USC Tuesday evening.