LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A week after anxiously waiting and praying for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, the UCLA Bruins certainly have done their best to quiet their doubters.
They were the first team to advance to a regional semifinal.
Tony Parker led five Bruins in double figures with a career-high 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as 11th-seeded UCLA beat 14th-seeded UAB 92-75 on Saturday to advance to its second straight Sweet 16.
“The selection committee thought we were good enough to play in this tournament, and I think we proved it,” Parker said.
Many thought the Bruins shouldn’t have even been in the field of 68 after scoring only seven points in a half against Kentucky in December and an inability to win consecutive games away from home all season.
Now they have won two straight in Louisville — and six of their last seven — to earn their first consecutive Sweet 16 berths since reaching the Final Four three straight seasons between 2006 and 2008. They will play either Gonzaga or Iowa on Friday in the South Regional semifinal in Houston.
“There’s no better time to do that than March,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said.
UCLA improved No. 11 seeds to a perfect 5-0 against 14 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and the Bruins didn’t need any questionable calls to win the program’s second game as a double-digit seed.
This time, they just dominated inside and shot the ball as well as they have all season. Kevon Looney had 10 points and 11 rebounds for UCLA. Bryce Alford had 22 points, Norman Powell 15 and Isaac Hamilton 13.
The Bruins’ opening win over SMU was sealed when a 3-point attempt by Alford was ruled good on a goaltending call.
With the Blazers worried first about Alford who hit 9 of 11 from 3 to beat SMU in the last game, Parker had room to roam helping UCLA outrebound UAB 41-26 with a 52-22 scoring edge in the paint.
“All of those were baskets right around the rim and positions where our length was not going to be able to bother him because, if he’s within 2 feet, he’s going to be awfully effective,” UAB coach Jerod Haase said.
The Blazers (20-16) missed out on their first regional semifinal since 2004 coming off their big upset of No. 3 seed Iowa State on Thursday. Robert Brown led the Blazers with 25 points and William Lee added 10.
Still, it was a big turnaround for a program that was Division I’s third-youngest program at the start of the season and 4-9 when Conference USA play began.
“We came a long way,” UAB guard Denzell Watts said. “It’s a good feeling, but we came up short.”
These teams came out shooting, and the Blazers didn’t back off looking for a second straight upset. They shot 50 percent in the first half and hit six of 10 3-pointers and grabbed their biggest lead at 21-15 on a 3-pointer by Lee. Then the Bruins showed just how well a team can knock down shots, reeling off a 13-2 run to take back the lead.
At one point, UCLA connected on eight straight shots helped by Parker dunking and scoring in close. They took a 46-37 lead after Alford finally hit his first 3 with 17 seconds left. The Bruins came out of the locker room scoring eight of the first 11 points, and Looney scored six straight with his last basket giving UCLA a 54-40 lead not even 3 minutes into the half.
The Blazers kept shooting from outside the arc, and consecutive 3s from Watts and Tyler Madison got them within 64-58 just before the midpoint of the half. Isaac Hamilton scored six straight for UCLA, the last a layup off a steal by Alford pushing the lead back to double digits. That was as close as the Blazers would get again.
UAB: The Blazers couldn’t match the rebounding edge they had against Iowa State with Madison and Tosin Mehinti limited to a combined 13 points in the first half because of foul trouble. They managed only nine rebounds in the first half. … Their last Sweet 16 berth came in 2004 when the Blazers beat Washington, then No. 1 seed Kentucky to advance.
UCLA: Parker turned in the most points by a Bruin in the tournament since Kevin Love had 29 against Western Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on March 27, 2008, a game after Alford had 27. … The Bruins have shot 50 percent or better in nine games this season. They shot 60.3 percent (35 of 58).
TIES THAT BIND: The late Gene Bartow left UCLA after going 52-9 with a trip to the 1976 Final Four to start the UAB athletic department. He was the Blazers’ head coach for 18 seasons and led them to nine NCAA Tournaments, including a regional semifinal in 1982 — the program’s fourth season of existence.
UCLA: Gonzaga or Iowa in Houston on Friday.
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