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They made the main draw of the NCAA tournament with a resume that may not have been worthy of the First Four. They won their opening-round game against sixth-seeded SMU on a disputed goaltending call. They drew a No. 14 seed in the round of 32 when UAB stunned Final Four dark horse Iowa State.
There's no question UCLA has benefited from some good fortune this March, but credit the Bruins for not letting it go to waste.
Tony Parker scored 28 points and Bryce Alford added 22 to lead 11th-seeded UCLA to a 92-75 victory over 14th-seeded UAB on Saturday in Louisville. The Bruins advance to a second straight Sweet 16 where they will face either second-seeded Gonzaga or seventh-seeded Iowa in a game teeming with storylines no matter the opponent.
[Photos: UCLA vs. UAB game action]
If UCLA gets the Zags, it will be a rematch of the 2006 Sweet 16 game that ended with Arron Afflalo helping up a tearful Adam Morrison after a stunning Gonzaga collapse. If UCLA draws Iowa, it will be a matchup between Steve Alford and the school he coached at for seven largely unsuccessful seasons before bolting for New Mexico in 2007.
UCLA advanced Saturday with a outstanding offensive showing fueled by its ability to score in transition and its dominance in the paint. All five UCLA starters hit double figures and the Bruins shot over 60 percent from the field as a team.
Parker sank 9 of 11 shots and also piled up 12 rebounds. Kevon Looney had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Bryce Alford took advantage of UAB's attempts to try to run him off the 3-point line and scored many of his 22 points off dribble penetration. Torrid 3-point shooting kept UAB in striking distance into the second half, but the Blazers could not string together enough stops for it to matter.
That UCLA will still be playing in the second week of the NCAA tournament is pretty remarkable given the adversity it has endured.
Stars Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine all left early for the NBA draft last spring. Injuries and academic issues left the Bruins with only eight scholarship players most of the season. And then there was the five-game losing streak over the holidays that included an embarrassing seven-point first half against top-ranked Kentucky.
UCLA showed resilience in not letting all that derail its season and displayed the same quality overcoming a 19-0 second-half run from SMU on Thursday.
You can say UCLA didn't belong in the NCAA tournament. You can say UCLA has gotten a favorable path to the Sweet 16. But give the Bruins credit for capitalizing on those opportunities and advancing to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament in a season when few expected it.
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