SAN DIEGO — With each March comes madness, and this year’s dose didn’t disappoint.
Across the country, double-digit seeds reigned. Mercer over Duke. North Dakota State over Oklahoma. Dayton over Ohio State.
By Friday afternoon, Warren Buffett’s money was already safe. The famed businessman and investor offered $1 billion to anyone who could fill out a perfect NCAA tournament bracket, partnering with Quicken Loans to set up the challenge. By 1:33 p.m. PT, only 16 were left.
Before night fell, those hopes died too. And the round of 64 wasn’t even over yet.
UCLA was up last, its tipoff at Viejas Arena pushed back by No.-12 seed Stephen F. Austin’s overtime thriller against VCU. With a 76-59 win over No. 13-seed Tulsa, the fourth-seed Bruins earned their first tournament victory in three years — calmly skirting around the upset bid.
The Golden Hurricane entered the game winning 11 straight, but relatively untested by its Conference USA schedule. Through its last 10 games, Tulsa hadn’t trailed by double digits for all but 10 seconds of 810 game minutes. This was not a team accustomed to crushing failure.
So it was that, one day earlier, the Bruins talked about hitting first. Point guard Kyle Anderson compared the game to a boxing match. Both Steve Alford and Danny Manning had pushed their teams to up-tempo styles all season, and weren’t going to deviate from that now.
Considering that UCLA entered the tournament as the country’s 14th-most efficient offense, it wasn’t a bad plan.
The pace was torrid from the start. The Bruins traded five field goals with Tulsa in less than three minutes, plus a pair of free throws.
At halftime, UCLA led just 35-30. Both teams shot below 40 percent from the field, but the Bruins countered with nine points off turnovers, as well as a perfect 8-for-8 showing at the line.
Anderson had eight points, four rebounds and three assists, but was called for back-to-back traveling calls. Alford gestured angrily at an official, holding up two fingers to signify the number of steps he thought were taken.
Meanwhile, Tulsa guard James Woodard continued his scorching recent run. With 70 points in his last three games, the sophomore had 10 in one half against the Bruins. He tied the game at 30 with his most impressive pair of plays, following his 3-pointer with a tomahawk dunk.
But a day earlier, Anderson had stressed the importance of the first four minutes in each half. His team followed that message.
The Bruins reeled off a 10-2 start over the first 3:51 after the break, opening up the attack with six straight points by sophomore guard Jordan Adams. He then floated a pass to San Diego native Norman Powell, who thrilled his hometown crowd with an authoritative dunk.
Tulsa called timeout, down 43-32 with 16:38 left.
It didn’t help. Less than 30 seconds later, Anderson stole the ball, opening up a fast break that ended with Powell’s layup.
Still, the Bruins couldn’t finish the job early, going through nearly four minutes without a point. The Golden Hurricane trimmed the deficit to five with 5:39 left before UCLA finally ended the drought on Bryce Alford’s jumper.
Within two minutes, the gap swelled back up to 10 — with Powell stealing the ball and converting a 3-point play. Adams drilled a 3-pointer 15 seconds later, and Tulsa never again got within single digits.