By the time you read this, UCLA will likely be eliminated from the NCAA tournament known across the country as March Madness. On Friday the Bruins played heavily favored Gonzaga, whose mascot is Spike the Bulldog. You gotta love Spike. (Which is more than I can say for this Friday deadline.)
If UCLA won, it would likely play Duke on Sunday and lose then. That’s typical March Madness. You start off with such hope, but by the time it’s over only the fans of¬† the champion are jubilant. The rest of us are various degrees of losers. (Being a sports fan is not that easy!)
According to some, the Bruins were lucky to be in the Big Dance and were given a No. 11 seed ‚Äî but, still, hope sprung eternal. And, sure enough, the Bruins narrowly won their first game against sixth-seeded SMU. Trailing by two with only 13 seconds to play (not good), Bruins point guard Bryce Alford, son of coach Steve Alford,¬† heaved up an off-balance 3-pointer.
While Alford had the game of his life¬† ‚Äî he went 9-for-11 from distance ‚Äî this shot didn’t have a prayer. But SMU’s 6-foot-11 Yanick Moreira was called for goaltending and suddenly UCLA was up by one. (Unbelievably good.) SMU got two more shots off before the buzzer, but neither went in. And Bruin fans, when their blood pressure finally settled down, lived for another day.
I felt bad for Moreira during the post-game press conference as he fought back tears. “As a senior, you can’t make those mistakes at the end of the game,” he lamented. I also felt compassion for SMU’s coach, 74-year-old Larry Brown. Once UCLA’s coach and one of the greatest of all time, Brown is still the only coach to have won NCAA and NBA titles.
For days before the game, Brown had a terrible case of bronchitis and the 60-59 loss didn’t help. “I never saw a game end like that,” said Brown who’s pretty much seen it all. In the meantime, UCLA caught a break when Alabama-Birmingham, seeded No. 14 in the region, beat No. 3 Iowa State.
Whereas the Shockers might have been too much for the Bruins, the UAB Blazers were no match. (Blazers? Their team mascot is a jacket?) The Bruins were now in the Sweet 16 and I had transitioned from Madness to gladness.
Speaking of gladness, no one was more so than Georgia State State coach Ron Hunter.¬† The weekend before, his team won the Sun Belt Conference championship and an automatic berth to the NCAA tourney. Unfortunately, he got so excited jumping up and down he tore his ACL. Ouch!
So for Georgia State’s first round against Baylor, Hunter had to coach from a stool with his leg propped up. Then, when his son R.J. hit the game winning 3-point shot with time running out, Hunter once again got excited. This time he fell off the stool and flat onto the hardwood but continued to cheer from the floor. (Someone suggested Hunter needed a seat-belt for his stool.) Go to YouTube and type “Coach falls off stool.” It’s hilarious.
Unfortunately, the Panthers lost their next game, so their trip from Madness to gladness to sadness took place over a matter of days.
Ratings for March Madness are the highest since 1991. It’s also the¬† most wagered sporting event in the U.S., and that includes the Super Bowl. A whopping one out of every 10 Americans fills out a bracket with as much as $9 billion being bet illegally. (I doubt any cops would enforce it ‚Äî they’re probably in an office pool, too.)
How big of a UCLA basketball fan am I? The Bruins have been in a record 17 Final Fours, and I can name every one. (I did it in my sleep the other night and woke up exhausted. Did I mention being a sports fan is not that easy?)
Assuming UCLA is no longer in the tournament, here’s what I’d like to see happen: Top-seeded Kentucky loses, snapping its winning streak and quashing a possible eighth NCAA title. (Too close to UCLA’s record of 11.) Unless, of course, the Wildcats play Duke in the championship, in which case I wish they both could lose. (How has Coach K had the same receding hairline for 40 years?)
Next weekend are the final two rounds of March Madness. Actually, I’d like to see a team not favored win the NCAA title. Maybe Michigan State? It’s the hugest of long shots as it next plays Kentucky, but how about Notre Dame? Notre Dame has never won an NCAA championship, and its only Final Four appearance was in 1978.
How I’d love to be wrong, but assuming Gonzaga¬† got past UCLA ‚Äî again, the curse of a Friday deadline ‚Äî I wouldn’t mind seeing the Bulldogs win the title. For one, the Zags have never even been to a Final Four. And two, how can you not root for Spike the Bulldog?
Jack Neworth also writes Laughing Matters, which appears every Friday. He’s at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and email@example.com.