What has UCLA done to deserve Joe Lunardi’s mysterious bracketology rankings after winning Saturday night against 4th-ranked Arizona?
And will he put Brigham Young in his pre-selection field after it ended No. 1 Gonzaga’s unbeaten season?
By ARNIE LESHIN
Joe Lunardi, hope you were tuned in Saturday night.
If so, you’d better give UCLA a better look. Before turning in an impressive 77-72 Pac 12 win at Arizona, the Bruins were ranked fifth in the polls. Their only losses in 29 starts came against the Wildcats at home and Southern Cal and Oregon on the road.
They have now avenged all three setbacks. And the victory over Arizona was the final regular-season statement. Except that Lunardi, who for years has spent his time figuring out the bracketology, updating it every week to give college fans a pre-selection look, an interest.
But he has been overlooking UCLA.
He has the Bruins as a fourth seed, which is actually the 13th through 16th teams, not the top four top seeds. Go figure.
Now let’s see what Lunardi brings to the table now. Will he keep UCLA as a number four and in the South Region, or will he be smarter and give credit where credit is due? Maybe he’ll keep the Bruins as a fourth seed and move them to the East Region? Funny, isn’t it?
But it just doesn’t make sense to discredit Steve Alford’s young but talented squad.
After ending the Wildcats’ home winning streak at 21 games, they partied in the UCLA locker room and head coach Alford joined in. Not many thought the former Indiana All-America guard under Bob Knights could win this one at Arizona, which defeated his team by 11 points at Pauley Pavilion.
But it did. It gathered its five starters who are scoring in double figures and got contributions from all of them.
His 6-4 senior son, Bryce, was comfortable tossing in 3s to go to his team-high 15 points to go with five rebounds. 6-6 versatile freshman Lonzo Ball did his usually wheeling and dealing by handing out eight assists and turning in 11 points with his outside shooting and penetrating to the basket, while coming away with seven rebounds.
Then there was 7-1 junior Thomas Walsh scoring 12 of his 14 points in the second half and bringing down eight rebounds. And can’t forget 6-10 freshman T.J. Leaf taking down seven boards and scoring 12, while sixth man, 5-11 sophomore guard Aaron Holliday, also scored a dozen.
Now that’s balance, five players in double figures. Quite different than Arizona having only two players in twin figures, with 5-11 junior Parker Jackson-Cartwright having the team-high 11 points, one more than 7-foot freshman Laui Markansen.
As a team, the Bruins dominated the offensive boards and down the stretch kept the home team off its own boards. This was their biggest success since winning at then ranked No. 6 Kentucky earlier in the campaign.
This impressive win put third-place UCLA at 13-3 in the conference, Arizona 15-2 (26-4 overall), and Oregon 15-2 (26-4 overall), but the Ducks have the tiebreaker over the Wildcats by virtue of defeating them the only time they played.
It’s been awhile since the Pac 12 has had three prospective Final Four teams, except that Lunardi and others currently rank Oregon or Arizona ahead of the Bruins. Gee, is UCLA underrated or overlooked?
Let’s see what Lunardi and friends do now after No. 1 Gonzaga fell from the ranks of the unbeaten Saturday night in following the televised Arizona-UCLA contest with a 79-71 loss at home to upset-minded BYU.
Ranked teams Duke, Florida and Purdue also dropped Saturday games. Villanova (27-2) and Kansas (25-3), ranked second and third, won. So at least the Bruins deserve to be No. 3 now and not among the seeded 13th to 16th quartet.
Stayed up late to watch the Zags, the lone undefeated Division 1 men’s team fall to 29-1 as the Cougars (21-10) rallied from 16 points down in the first half to defeat Gonzaga for the fourth time in the conference (overall, the rest of the conference is 4-66 versus the Zags), and have divided the last six games. It was also the initial time that BYU defeated a No. 1.
In the previous meeting between the two, the Cougars lost 85-75 at home back on Feb. 2, but head coach Dave Rose thought he had an answer this time.
“They (Gonzaga) were beating everybody with ease,” he said, “but they had yet to be in a close game late in the game, and I figure if we could hang in there, we’ll find out how they handle it.”
The Zags began with a rush, taking an 18-2 lead as Rose called a pair of time outs. Leading the way was 7-1 senior post Premeck Karnowski with eight of his 10 points coming early. When he cooled off, BYU’s 6-10 sophomore and leading scorer Eric Mika took over.
Mika had the game-high 29 points. He brought down 11 rebounds, blocked three shots, and made some clutch shots in the tense final minutes this home crowd wasn’t accustomed to. He was 10-for-14 from the floor and 9-for-11 from the foul line.
Then there was 6-4 freshman point guard T.J. Haws running the show and tossing in 17 points while handing out six assists. And 6-5 sophomore Elijah Bryant scored 14. They just kept their team hanging around, cutting into the deficit and playing with confidence to offset the early gap.
Both teams scrubbed the boards for 38 rebounds each, but most of the Zags came in the first half. Plus, it was not a time for 3s for them, making good only 3-of-16 while BYU was 9-for-14.
Now, Lunardi does not have the Cougars going to the Big Dance, March Madness. They do not appear on his latest brackets, now let’s see if he was watching an unranked team turn back a team that had been number one for four weeks?
Does BYU belong? Sure, beating Gonzaga on the road is deserving of an invite. It shows how meaningless Lunardi’s brackets are when it’s still two weeks before the official field (Selection Sunday) is announced.
He’s always done well with predicting who gets in, but not as well when placing the seeds. And here he doesn’t even have the Cougars as first four out or even next four out. Now they might be able to sneak in.
Not to forget that ESPN really put together a stellar doubleheader this time.
Not to forget earlier in the season when a small plane flew over Westwood with a sign that read “Fire Steve Alford.” No doubt he’s probably still getting a laugh out of that.
And Lunardi’s response? He says that we shouldn’t overreact to UCLA’s win over Arizona despite the seeding bump it received as a result of it. Wonder if he went to USC?
In regard to Bob Knight, his 1975-76 Hoosiers are still the only team to have an undefeated season. And the UConn women are now the lone unbeaten team in Division 1.