The runaway finish was set up by some crazy momentum swings, a wild back-and-forth battle that none of the breathless fans wanted to end.
UCLA has this game! No, wait, Alabama isn’t going away!
In a lopsided overtime, there was no doubt. It was all Bruins.
UCLA scored the first seven points of the extra period Sunday night inside Hinkle Fieldhouse, the 11th-seeded Bruins pulling away for an 88-78 victory over second-seeded Alabama in an NCAA tournament East Region semifinal.
When it was over, the Bruins on the way to their first regional final since 2008, point guard Tyger Campbell thrust a finger into the air, shooting guard David Singleton triumphantly flipped away the basketball before leading his teammates in another celebratory dance and coach Mick Cronin pounded his chest with a clenched fist and pointed at his father Hep high in the stands.
Singleton had opened the scoring in overtime with a three-pointer and Campbell followed with a steal and a layup after pump-faking his defender into the air past him.
Soon there was a spirited “U-C-L-A!” chant breaking out high in the rafters of the old barn and UCLA was on its way to its deepest run in this tournament since the end of its three consecutive runs of Final Fours in 2008.
The Bruins (21-9) will need more magic against top-seeded Michigan on Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium after dispatching the Crimson Tide (26-7) with tough defense and smart playmaking after some extended cold shooting stretches in the second half.
The finish was all preceded by a crazy end to regulation.
One moment, Singleton is headed to the free-throw line to give his team a three-point lead and Hep Cronin is shown pumping his fist on the video scoreboard.
The next, Alabama’s Alex Reese sinks a three-pointer over the outstretched arm of Cody Riley with four-tenths of a second left, prompting his teammates to swarm him.
It looked like the Bruins might be headed to victory in regulation after Campbell drove toward the basket and leaped into the air, passing the ball to Riley for a layup that gave UCLA a one-point lead with 15 seconds left.
There was more elation after the Crimson Tide’s Herbert Jones Jr. missed two free throws with 6.8 seconds left. UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. snagged the rebound and passed to Singleton, who was fouled with 4.2 seconds to go.
Alabama had gone ahead, 62-61, with 36 seconds left after Jaquez stepped in front of Herbert Jones and was called for a block. Jones missed the first free throw but made the second to give his team the one-point lead.
Riley had given the Bruins a 60-58 lead with less than four minutes left on a putback, and he had a chance to extend the advantage when he rose for a jump hook that bounced out of the rim.
But Alabama countered with John Petty’s jump hook and went ahead, 61-60, when Herbert Jones made one of two free throws. Campbell had a chance to put the Bruins back ahead when he was fouled, but the front end of his one-and-one opportunity rolled around the rim before falling off.
The Bruins forced a turnover to get the ball back, still down by a point with 1:54 left, but Jaquez missed a tough turnaround jumper on the baseline. Riley got his team another possession when he blocked Juwan Gary’s layup and grabbed the ball, allowing Cronin to call timeout with exactly one minute left to set up a play.
His team wouldn’t let him down.
Jaquez and Jules Bernard finished with 17 points each to lead the Bruins, who prevailed despite shooting only 27.3% in the second half and making just one of 12 three-pointers.
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