UCLA defeats Alabama in overtime thriller to reach NCAA tournament Elite Eight

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Ben Bolch
·16 min read
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UCLA players celebrate after beating Alabama 88-78 in overtime of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA.
UCLA players celebrate after defeating Alabama 88-78 in overtime to advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament on Sunday. (AJ Mast / Associated Press)

The runaway finish was preceded by some crazy momentum swings, a 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 overtime, there was no doubt. It was all Bruins.

The evidence could be seen in a flurry of consecutive points and heard high in the Hinkle Fieldhouse stands from fans yelling four letters not heard this deep into March in more than a decade.

“U-C-L-A!”

The Bruins are back in a big way on college basketball’s biggest stage.

They trumpeted their presence once more Sunday night, the fearless underdogs knocking off another overmatched bully while rocking the old barn that felt much fuller than its capacity limit of 1,250.

Shrugging off an Alabama three-pointer that tied the score with four-tenths of a second left in regulation, 11th-seeded UCLA scored the first seven points of overtime and overran the second-seeded Crimson Tide for an 88-78 victory in an NCAA tournament East Region semifinal.

When it was over, the Bruins having won a fourth consecutive game on the way to their first regional final since 2008, emotion overflowed for a team that had been widely dismissed only two weeks earlier following four consecutive losses.

Point guard Tyger Campbell thrust a finger into the air. Shooting guard David Singleton triumphantly flipped away the ball and led his teammates in another dance that’s become a postgame tradition.

Coach Mick Cronin pounded his chest with a clenched fist and pointed at his father, Hep, high in the stands, the family reunited for two more days amid a once-in-a-century pandemic.

“For me, we’ve got to win three more games,” Cronin said after advancing to his first regional semifinal in only his second season at UCLA as part of a career spanning nearly two decades. “I’m happy we’re alive. You do this to try to have a chance, and you never know when this chance is going to come along again, as a coach, as a coaching staff. You just never know.”

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 tenacious defense and smart playmaking after some extended shooting funks in the second half.

It all set up a wild sequence to end regulation.

One moment, Hep Cronin was shown pumping his fist on the video scoreboard as Singleton was headed to the free-throw line to give UCLA a three-point lead with four seconds left.

The next, Alabama was swarming Alex Reese in celebration after he sunk a three-pointer over the outstretched arm of Bruins forward Cody Riley to tie the score, making Cronin regret his decision not to foul the Crimson Tide before they could get off a shot.

His players saved him over the next five minutes after showing steely resolve in the huddle before overtime.

“We knew that we had nothing to worry about it,” UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. said of the dramatic shot. “This is March. It happens all the time.”

There wasn’t nearly as much drama in overtime. Singleton opened the scoring with a three-pointer and Campbell followed it with a steal and a layup.

By the time Singleton made a jumper to extend UCLA’s lead to 72-65 with 2:51 left, the Bruins fans stationed behind one basket were stomping the aluminum bleachers in anticipation of the team’s deepest run since the last of its three consecutive Final Fours under coach Ben Howland.

Jaquez and Jules Bernard finished with 17 points each, leading six Bruins in double figures scoring. Bernard made four free throws in overtime but missed all seven of his shots in the second half after carrying the Bruins with four three-pointers before halftime, including one in which he was fouled and completed a four-point play. Singleton collected a season-high 15 points and Johnny Juzang added 13 but wasn’t around for the finish, fouling out with 2:26 left in regulation.

UCLA guard Tyger Campbell (10) and Cody Riley (2) battle Alabama guard John Petty Jr. for a loose ball.
UCLA guard Tyger Campbell (10) and Cody Riley (2) battle Alabama guard John Petty Jr. for a loose ball during the second half Sunday. (AJ Mast / Associated Press)

The game looked like it might be a rout much earlier than overtime. Cronin fist-bumped his players walking off the court at halftime after they built a 40-29 lead. But every bit of that cushion was needed after the Bruins shot 27.3% in the second half, making only one of 12 three-pointers.

The game plan against Alabama was a lengthy one. Cronin knew his team would give up some three-pointers, but he didn’t want the Crimson Tide to make them in succession to spark lengthy runs. Cronin also needed his players to keep Alabama off the offensive board to prevent easy second-chance points.

UCLA went two for two after the Crimson Tide made just seven of 28 three-pointers and finished with 13 second-chance points to the Bruins’ 11. As an unexpected bonus, Alabama made only 11 of 25 free throws.

Afterward, the Bruins couldn’t contain their elation. Somebody could be heard yelling a triumphant expletive over the videoconference feed before Jaquez appeared to speak with reporters, his hair wet from being doused by teammates in the locker room.

He’s hoping the forecast calls for more Midwestern showers before heading home to Southern California.

“This is our whole team's first time going to the Elite Eight, but we're not finished yet,” Jaquez said. “We're not finished. We've got a lot more work to do.”

Game recap

UCLA players, including David Singleton (34), Kenneth Nwuba (14) and Mac Etienne (12) celebrate.
UCLA players, including David Singleton (34), Kenneth Nwuba (14) and Mac Etienne (12) celebrate after defeating Alabama in overtime Sunday. (Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

UCLA 88, Alabama 78 (final)

Alabama foul on the inbound pass. Tyger Campbell makes both free throws, UCLA up by nine. Jahvon Quinerly missed, Alabama forced to keep fouling. Jules Bernard made both free throws with 30 seconds remaining to effectively put the game away.

UCLA 79, Alabama 72 (38 seconds left in overtime)

David Singleton made a three-pointer, 68-65 UCLA at 4:42. Tyger Campbell grabbed a steal and took it all the way for a layup, 70-65 UCLA at 4:09. Alabama's Alex Reese missed a free throw. Cody Riley missed a jumper for UCLA. Two missed jump shots for Alabama. Singleton hit a jump shot and drew the foul at 2:52. He missed the free throw. Jahvon Quinerly hit a three-pointer. Jaime Jaquez Jr. got a jumper, 74-68. Jones got a layup, then a block on the other end, 74-70 UCLA at 1:45. Jaquez hit a three pointer, 77-70. Quinerly misses from long with 1:20 remaining. Jaquez missed a jumper. Keon Ellis missed a jumper. Foul on Alabama, down by seven with 41 seconds remaining. UCLA made both free throws, Quinerly answers with a layup. Timeout Alabama.

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UCLA 65, Alabama 65 (end of regulation)

Alex Reese made a wide open three-point shot just before the buzzer.

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UCLA 65, Alabama 62 (0:04 remaining in second half)

Herbert Jones drove to the basket, lost his footing but is fouled with 6.8 remaining. He missed the first free throw. And missed the second one. UCLA's David Singleton is fouled with 4.2 seconds remaining. He made both free throws for a three-point UCLA lead.

UCLA 63, Alabama 62 (0:15 left in second half)

Tyger Cambell drove inside, dished to Cody Riley for the layup and a 63-62 UCLA lead with 15 seconds remaining. Alabama timeout.

Alabama 62, UCLA 61 (0:29 left in second half)

Jaime Jaquez Jr. draws a foul on Juwan Gary (fouled out) with 46.5 seconds left. Jaquez made the first free throw to tie the game 61-61 and missed the second. Herbert Jones drives quickly to the hoop and is fouled by Jaquez with 36.8 remaining. Jones missed the first free throw and made the second for a one-point Tide lead. UCLA called its final timeout.

UCLA guard Jaylen Clark (0) and Alabama guard Jahvon Quinerly (13) battle for a loose ball, along with Herbert Jones (1).
UCLA guard Jaylen Clark (0) and Alabama guard Jahvon Quinerly (13) battle for a loose ball, along with Herbert Jones (1). (Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

Alabama 61, UCLA 60 (1:00 left in second half)

Jaime Jaquez Jr. missed a jump shot for UCLA at 1:23. Cody Riley blocked a shot and got the steal for UCLA possession with one minute remaining.

Alabama 61, UCLA 60 (1:54 left in second half)

Herbert Jones made one of two free throws for a one-point Tide lead. Tyger Campbell missed a free throw at 2:08. Timeout to determine possession — the ball hit UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. but may have touched John Petty Jr.'s shorts on the way out. UCLA ball.

UCLA 60, Alabama 60 (2:27 remaining in second half)

Johnny Juzang is on the bench after picking up his fourth foul. Jahvon Quinerly made one of two free throws, but UCLA reclaimed the lead on a Tyger Campbell jumper. Keon Ellis missed a free throw, but teammate Juan Gary got the rebound and layup for a 54-53 Alabama lead. Tyger Campbell misses a long shot for UCLA. Tide's Ellis shot an airball. Campbell tied the game, making one of two free throws. Alabama's John Petty Jr. made two free throws for a 56-54 lead with 5:37 remaining. Cody Riley gets a jam on an inbound pass from Campbell, but Alabama's Jaden Shackleford answers with a layup. Riley tied the game with a layup. Petty missed a long shot with 4 minutes remaining. Bernard missed a three, but Riley got the putback, 60-58 UCLA.

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Quinerly missed from long, but Riley also missed at the other end. Petty tied the game with a layup at 2:46. Juzang missed a layup, then picked up his fifth foul while fighting for the rebound.

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UCLA 51, Alabama 51 (7:07 left in second half)

Jaime Jaquez Jr. made a free throw out of the timeout. Alabama now has gone cold from long. Jahvon Quinerly breaks a scoring drought for both teams with a layup at 9:47. John Petty Jr. made a three-pointer for Alabama and Juwan Gary got a layup to tie the game at 49-49. Keon Ellis drives for a layup to give the Tide a 51-49 lead. Jaquez drives for a layup to tie the game again with 7:21 remaining.

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UCLA 47, Alabama 42 (11:10 left in second half)

John Petty Jr. got the jam to tie the game. UCLA shooting has gone absolutely cold as Alabama went on an 11-0 run. Johnny Juzang hit a layup for UCLA's first points of the half at 14:08. Tyger Campbell got a fast break basket on a goaltending call for a 44-40 Bruins lead. Jahvon Quinerly set up a Joshua Primo layup with a behind-the-back pass.

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UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. hit a three-pointer.

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UCLA 40, Alabama 38 (15:39 left in second half)

Keon Ellis got a steal and a layup for Alabama, which has started the second half on a 9-0 run.

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UCLA 40, Alabama 36 (16:34 left in second half)

Alabama's John Petty Jr. makes two free throws for the first points of the second half. UCLA has missed four three-point shots in first three possessions of the half. Jaden Shackleford gets a layup to pull the Tide to within 40-33. UCLA's Johnny Juzang got his third foul before Petty made a three-pointer to close the gap to 40-36.

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UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. shoots over Alabama forward Herbert Jones.
UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. shoots over Alabama forward Herbert Jones. (Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

UCLA 40, Alabama 29 (halftime)

UCLA's David Singleton hit a three following a pair of missed free throws by Alabama's Juwan George. UCLA made four of its last six three-point attempts. Jules Bernard got a three-pointer and is fouled by Jahvon Quinerly. Bernard completed the four-point play for a 15-2 UCLA run. Quinerly hit a layup on the other end. Bernard drains another three-pointer.

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Bernard scored seven of his 13 points during a 40-second stretch late in the half. Johnny Juzang has 11 points for the Bruins, who ended the half on a 20-6 run. Juzang, Tyger Campbell and Cody Riley have two fouls each.

Alabama has six points from Keon Ellis. He and SEC player of the year Herbert Jones spent significant time on the bench with two fouls each.

UCLA 30, Alabama 27 (3:33 left in first half)

Juwan Gary got a steal on the UCLA end and the jam on the other end, 25-22 Tide. David Singleton hit a three-pointer to tie the game for the Bruins. Jaime Jaquez gets a bank shot for a 27-25 UCLA lead. Jules Bernard hit a three for a 30-25 lead. John Petty Jr. gets a layup for Alabama.

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Alabama 23, UCLA 22 (6:50 left in first half)

Johnny Juzang hit a pair of free throws off the timeout, then after a UCLA steal gets a layup. Tyger Campbell gets a steal on Alabama's end, then takes it all the way to pull the Bruins to within 19-17 at 9:10. Jones returns to the floor for the first time after picking up his second foul less than a minute into the game. Jahvon Quinerly hits a layup. Campbell goes to the bench after two fouls in less than a minute. Juzang hit a three, 21-20 Tide, but Juwan Gary answers with a layup. Jaime Jaquez Jr. gets a layup for the Bruins to pull to within 23-22.

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Alabama 19, UCLA 11 (10:34 left in first half)

Johnny Juzang drained a jumper off the timeout but Jahvon Quinerly answered with a quick layup.

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Alabama 17, UCLA 9 (11:17 left in first half)

Joshua Primo drove to the rim to give Alabama a 9-7 lead. Jahvon Quinerly hit a three-pointer for a 12-7 lead. Primo is fouled by Cody Riley going to the rim and made both free throws for a 14-7 Alabama lead. Jahvon Quinerly made one of two free throws to give Alabama a 15-7 lead. Johnny Juzang drives to the basket to end a 14-0 Alabama run. It was the Bruins' first made shot in their last 10 attempts. Keon Ellis hit a layup on the other end.

Alabama forward Juwan Gary protects the ball from UCLA guard Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr.
Alabama forward Juwan Gary protects the ball from UCLA guard Johnny Juzang, right, and Jaime Jaquez Jr. (AJ Mast / Associated Press)

UCLA 7, Alabama 7 (15:12 left in first half)

Alabama's Herbert Jones is on the bench after picking up his second foul just 41 seconds into the game. UCLA's Cody Riley made a layup for the first points of the game at the 18:29 mark. Alabama's Keon Ellis made a free throw for Alabama, but Tyger Campbell answered with a layup and Jules Bernard hit a three for a 7-1 UCLA lead. Jordan Bruner and Ellis hit back-to-back threes to tie it up.

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Starting lineups

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.