(East Los Angeles, CA) March 31, 2021 [From TheEditor’s Desk]: The CBS commercial saying…“On the Road to The Final Four”…is such a great descriptor of one of the biggest sporting events of all time. The magnitude of conducting such a monstrosity of an event is difficult to understand by the average fan or the average person. But, let’s think about that for a moment. In today’s COVID-19 plagued time of major team sporting events, it truly became one of the most complex roads or journeys, literally, to travel in search of the eventual goal–a most prestigious and valued Championship Trophy!!
And, so we have to begin comparing notes and historical facts. With that, the Bruins (23-9) are just the second team in NCAA history to go from a “First Four” qualifier to a “Final Four” finalist. Marquette’s new Head Coach, Shaka Smart, gets credit for being the first Coach to accomplish it a decade ago, in 2011, when he led his Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Rams to the Final Four.
Now, in 2021, the Bruins are set to arrive on the precipice of winning another NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball National Championship, which would be their 12th overall. That feat is what only the Bruins can traditionally claim with pride, robustness, and fervor due to Coach Johnny Wooden’s dynasty building years, from 1964-1975. But that’s a different story in itself. Let’s stay focused on this Road. The enormity of this undertaking that comes with pitfalls, mistakes, lessons learned, and the painful losses, etc., all come into play during the journey down this very treacherous, winding, but at the same time, an enjoyable and memorable road. Let the NCAA’s record book reflect this tremendous Bruin accomplishment during the March Madness of 2021.
On this journey we give you in rapid-fire succession the five teams that have dramatically been disappointed after their loss to UCLA. In the First Four/Play-In game, it was Michigan State. In the Round of 64, it was BYU. In the Round of 32, it was Abilene Christian. In the next Round of 16, it was #2 Alabama, and in the Round of 8, it was #1 Michigan. And now to the Final Round of 4, it will be the #1 team in the country, the Gonzaga Bulldogs, (30-0), representing the West Coast Conference (WCC).
Let’s review that great Elite Eight, Michigan game right now.
(1st half): Sophomore Guard, Johnny Juzang, the Studio City, Harvard-Westlake Wolverine product, went on a tear as he hit shot after shot, keeping the Bruins on pace with the bigger, but not quicker Wolverines. The game evolved quickly into a defensive contest, with the game scoring coming in a series of runs. The first notable run went to Michigan to start the game, as thy sprinted out to an (11-4) lead. But the Bruins had a bigger run to end the first half when they pushed ahead on a (22-12) run. In between, the pace was “stop and go” with turnovers impacting both squads. The Bruins went into the locker room at the half with a narrow lead of (27-23). It is important to note that Center/Cody Riley sat on the bench with foul trouble and Coach Cronin had to substitute him for Kenneth Nwuba, who played effectively and aggressively on defense.
(2nd Half): Juzang, the team’s sharpshooter/slasher kept ratcheting up his game to match the intensity and magnitude of the game and the moment. Meanwhile, the Wolverines put together an (8-0) run that cut the Bruins lead to just one, (34-33). However, at the (17:17) minute mark, he went to the floor after a missed free throw by Michigan, got tangled up on the rebound, and then tweaked his previously injured right ankle. The Bruins, their hundreds of fans-in-attendance, and the many millions watching, collectively held their breath as he hobbled into the locker room for treatment. Meanwhile the Bruins girded themselves on the court, all the while hoping that Juzang would return. And return he did, just like new, with no signs of being affected by the mishap. During his absence, Tyger Campbell was effective with scoring spurts along with great defense that kept the Bruins steady by remaining either in front, or only trailing by two.
At the (11:00) minute mark, a couple of big baskets by the re-inserted Cody Riley gave the Bruins a much-needed boost and a five point lead at (36-33). Both teams essentially then traded baskets, but at the (5:00) minute mark, the score was tied at (46-46). The Bruins went ahead on a put-back by Jules Bernard, the Windward HS product, to give UCLA the lead at (48-47).
The proverbial nail-biting and nitty-gritty time were all wrapped up into one emotion as the clock wound down. Both teams stood “toe-to-toe” in the final minutes as they traded missed scoring opportunities with missed shots. At the (1:06) mark, the Bruins led at (50-47) on a Juzang floater from 5′ out at the baseline. Michigan then managed to have Franz Wagner go to the free throw line for a pair, which he made, moving the score to (50-49). After another time-out, and at the (:40) second mark, Coach Cronin drew a play for Jaime Jaquez, Jr. On a dribble penetration by Campbell, it was kicked out to him for a 3-pointer from in front of his bench, but it missed with no long rebound, and the Wolverines had possession. They came down and called a time-out. With (:14.3 seconds) left, Wagner was set up for a 3 point attempt, but he missed and was short. His teammate Eli Brooks managed to secure it and tried to shoot, but missed. Juzang was fouled after grabbing the loose ball. And now, with just (:06.3) seconds left, Juzang went to the free throw stripe. He made the first but missed the second. The score was now UCLA 51, Michigan 49.
After their final time-out, and with their last possession of the game, the Wolverines took the ball out deep in their back-court. After guard Mike Smith pushed it up quickly into their front court, he pulled up from his defender Tyger Campbell, and launched an “open-look” 3 pointer, but missed left and in the fight for the rebound, the Bruins wee ruled to have deflected it out of bounds. So, with just (:00.5) seconds left, they in-bounded the pass on their baseline. Again, it was a frantic 3-point attempt by an open Wagner, but it was way “off-the-mark” and with that, the Bruins began to celebrate with their victory dance at the Big Dance!!
(FINAL SCORE): Bruins 51, Michigan 49
The Post-Game victory celebration took some time to complete as the Bruins were simply “On Top of the World” with joy, happiness, and thankfulness. The traditional discharging onto the court of Blue & Gold confetti, the photo opportunities for the school’s media corps, the standard of the cutting down of the net, all took place followed by “on-court” interviews with selected players by the CBS network and other national media outlets.
In the post-game Press Conference, Juzang, was eager to say that he and his teammates, (aka) “Band of Brothers,” were all having the best time of their lives, loving and living in this surreal moment. They all shined brightly on the country’s biggest stage of men’s college basketball, the NCAA’s Quarterfinal Tournament bracket and they did not disappoint their entire fan-base.
Bruins Coach, Mick Cronin, summed it all up very well with several post-game conference quotes.. #1) “I spell fun, w–i–n!!” and, #2)“this was the type of game that you throw out the stat sheet!”
And now that the top of Mount NCAA is nearly in sight, the Bruins know they are just one step away from claiming that they have arrived at their goal. Now, let’s hope and pray that the journey ends in two more stops. Let’s all make plans on Saturday to support the Bruins in their quest for the title.
(Bruins Stat-Line): Juzang led the scoring with (28) points in (38) minutes, and Campbell added (11) points, (2) assists in (33) minutes. Bernard finished with (9) rebounds & (2) assists in (39) minutes. Jaquez had (6) rebounds, (4) assists, (3) steals, and (1) block in (38) minutes. Riley had (4) points, (3) assists, (1) block, and (5) personal fouls in (18) minutes. Nwuba had (5) rebounds in (20) minutes.
(Next Up): #1 Seed, Gonzaga Bulldogs (30-0), on Saturday, April 3rd. Tip-off is set for 5:34pm (PDT) and will be carried on TV by the CBS Network. National Radio coverage will be provided by the Westwood One Network. Local radio station 870 AM will carry the game.