UCLA’s March Madness toughness might be examined on Final Four trek

(Jack C. Gregory / For The Times)

It is glamorously referred to as, “The Road to the Final Four,” however on the day UCLA acquired its coordinates, it was absolutely struck with a gritty realization.

They weren’t precisely positioned on a street. They had been positioned on a slender, winding stretch of mud and rocks. They had been positioned on a potholed path seemingly headed immediately right into a ditch.

There’s Boise State. There’s Gonzaga. There’s — gasp — Kansas.

In the NCAA males’s basketball match pairings introduced Sunday, the Bruins had been positioned within the hardest area in opposition to among the hardest groups and should compete with out doubtlessly two of their hardest gamers.

In different phrases, they had been positioned proper in Coach Mick Cronin’s wheelhouse.

This goes to be tough, it may get ugly, and he and his Bruins can not wait.

“We try to create a no excuses culture,” Cronin advised reporters Sunday afternoon. “I try to teach them that about their life too. If you have the toughness, and the willingness to put in the work, you can get where you want to go.”

Where they need to go all of a sudden appears a great distance from right here, with defensive chief Jaylen Clark seemingly out for the season with a decrease leg harm and massive man Adem Bona nursing a sore shoulder, however Cronin was unmoved.

“You know, there’s a way to win a game,” he stated. “There’s always a way to win a game, no matter if Jaylen Clark’s out, Adem’s out, God forbid somebody else is. There’s always a way to win a game. It may not be as easy, your margin for error may not be as great. But there’s still a way to win the game if you’re willing to be tough enough to do it. And these guys are, because they want to win. That’s what they’re about.”

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Yes, within the wake of Sunday’s announcement, the Bruins can have fun that they had been a No. 2 seed within the West Region. Indeed, they’ll play the primary two rounds in Sacramento, and in the event that they’re nonetheless alive, they might play the following two rounds in Las Vegas, and that’s all an exquisite factor.

But have you ever checked out who they might be taking part in? Have you puzzled how they’ll survive the mix of bruising matchups and lacking gamers?

UCLA guard Amari Bailey shoots over Arizona guard Cedric Henderson Jr.

UCLA guard Amari Bailey shoots over Arizona guard Cedric Henderson Jr. in the course of the second half of the Bruins’ win March 4.

(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

UCLA seemingly ran the gantlet two seasons in the past once they fought their strategy to the Final Four from the beginning place of an Eleventh-seed in a play-in sport.

The reality is, they’re going to should do one thing like that once more. Playing with out Clark and with a hampered Bona, the Bruins are going to should navigate this “road” with each little bit of gumption that Cronin can summon.

Again, the last-dance combo of Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell and David Singleton can not wait.

“I know us three have had a lot of conversations about this being our last year together and just embracing it,” Jaquez advised reporters. “This is one final chance to make something happen, our backs are against the wall right now, we feel like, but we’re embracing it, we take everything that comes with it.”

First up, North Carolina Asheville , a fifteenth seed with a 140 NET rating and but a workforce that would no less than startle. The Bulldogs have received 18 of their final 19 video games and so they can make the most of Bona’s limitations with one of many nation’s finest large males, Drew Pember, a 6-foot-10 senior who averages 21 factors and 9 rebounds a sport.

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“We know that you can’t take anything for granted,” stated Singleton. “We have to put 100% effort throughout every game of this tournament starting with UNC Asheville.”

Next up, it says right here that Boise State beats Northwestern and brings the Bruins their 29 NET rating with wins in opposition to Texas A&M, Washington State and Colorado. The Broncos are additionally led by the form of senior-guard mixture that wins in March with Marcus Shaver Jr. and Max Rice.

“We’ve got to make sure … our gas tank is ready to go,” stated Cronin.

The Bruins can and may survive these first two video games, however it might be harmful, and their reward might be downright deflating. Waiting for them in Las Vegas might be an previous nemesis and a defending champion.

Do they actually need to play Gonzaga once more? Especially now? The Bulldogs have a NET rating of six and their solely three losses since late November have been by one level or in time beyond regulation. They are led by 6-10 ahead Drew Timme, who has seemingly been in faculty for the final decade.

This is the yr that, for as soon as, no person has actually paid consideration to Gonzaga. It would determine that this might be the yr the Bulldogs lastly win a nationwide championship.

You know who else may win a nationwide title, turning into solely the third repeat champion in 50 years? Kansas is again and, regardless of being blown out within the Big 12 match championship sport in opposition to Texas with its coach Bill Self within the hospital, it’s nonetheless Kansas.

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The Jayhawks performed the nation’s hardest schedule, led the nation with 17 Quad 1 wins, and are sparked by skilled Jalen Wilson and Dajuan Harris Jr.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin shouts instructions to his players during a win over Oregon.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin shouts directions to his gamers throughout a win over Oregon within the Pac-12 match semifinals Friday.

(Chase Stevens / Associated Press)

If nothing else, in the event that they attain the glitzy Las Vegas area, the Bruins can draw from their sweat-stained expertise there this weekend within the Pac-12 Tournament.

They got here inside a missed free throw and missed wide-open three-point try from defeating No. 8 Arizona in Saturday evening’s championship sport regardless of having 4 key gamers on the bench. They had been lacking not solely Clark and Bona, but in addition their different two large males, Mac Etienne and Kenneth Nwuba, each of whom fouled out.

The relentless foursome of Jaquez Jr., Campbell, Singleton and freshman Amari Bailey practically beat the large and proficient Wildcats by themselves. Survival over the following three weeks would require each little bit of that effort and extra.

“We got to have a short memory, get better, figure out things we need to do, look at the film, and go from there,” stated Jaquez.

Another Los Angeles workforce will be part of them within the insanity, that being USC. Despite their listless loss to Arizona State within the Pac-12 match, the Trojans climbed into the match as a No. 10 seed within the East, however they’re not anticipated to final lengthy.

If they’ll beat match guru Tom Izzo and Michigan State within the first spherical — a chance if Drew Peterson’s again loosens up — then they have to face mighty No. 2 seed Marquette, a workforce that many have picked to succeed in the title weekend.

For each locals, “The Road To The Final Four” ought to be nothing wanting a curving, careening journey.

Buckle up.