SAN DIEGO — A few hours before tipoff, Stephen F. Austin laid claim to the longest winning streak in college basketball.
Or rather, the claim fell into the Lumberjacks’ laps. In St. Louis, eighth-seeded Kentucky felled Wichita State, ending the Shockers’ dream of an undefeated season. Some 1,800 miles away at Viejas Arena, SFA inherited the mantle of the country’s hottest team.
Alas, its 29-game streak died before nightfall.
Fourth-seeded UCLA easily dispatched the Cinderella from East Texas on Sunday evening, trailing for just 25 seconds of a 77-60 win over the Lumberjacks.
With the win, the Bruins advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2008. It also ends a long drought for first-year head coach Steve Alford, whose lone trip came in 1999 when he led 12th-seeded Southwest Missouri State to upsets over Wisconsin and Tennessee.
Up next? Who else but Florida — a top overall seed riding a 28-win streak, and the program responsible for three of UCLA’s last six tournament exits.
But no matter for now. UCLA has earned the right to celebrate this moment, having now beaten four of its last five opponents by at least 17 points.
Against SFA, it scored nearly at will — shooting 55 percent from the field and earning 42 points inside the paint. Sophomore guard Jordan Adams led the team with 19 points, while point guard Kyle Anderson had 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists. In front of his hometown crowd, junior Norman Powell scored 15.
The Bruins didn’t play spotlessly in the first half, but still entered halftime with a comfortable 42-32 lead. Against a team that was fourth-best in the country at forcing turnovers, UCLA kept its tally spotless for over eight minutes. At the break, no Bruin except backup point guard Bryce Alford — two turnovers — had coughed up the ball.
After the first 4:40 of the second half, the Lumberjacks never got within single digits again.
Somehow, SFA outrebounded UCLA, 20-14, at halftime, collecting five of those boards on offense. Looking fearless if outmatched on the big stage, the Lumberjacks scrapped for loose balls despite not starting a player taller than 6-foot-6. On one missed three-pointer, SFA boxed out for two back-to-back rebounds before finally putting in a layup.
But it was never enough. Stephen F. Austin cut the deficit to three with 9:30 left in the first half, and to five with 3:53 — hitting key 3-pointers both times. Within the next three or four minutes, the Bruins would stretch the lead back to double digits.
The Lumberjacks never could find the bucket enough from long range, perhaps their only hope for an upset. UCLA entered the round of 32 allowing 3-point attempts at a higher rate than all but three other Division I teams, making them vulnerable to a lights-out showing from beyond the arc.
Stephen F. Austin hit just 4-of-13 in the first half, and finished 7-of-27. UCLA dared them to let it fly, switching to a zone after the Lumberjacks scored six of their first 12 points in the paint. SFA didn’t score a field goal for the next 6:24.