The UCLA men’s basketball team is set to fly to Dayton, Ohio, Monday morning for Tuesday’s NCAA tournament First Four game against St. Bonaventure.
The Bruins were among the last four teams to receive one of the 36 at- large berths to the 68-team tournament.
“It did surprise me that we were (among) the last four in,” UCLA coach Steve Alford told reporters Sunday at Pauley Pavilion after the tournament brackets were revealed. “I thought we were soundly in, how we finished, winning at `SC.”
Each of the lowest four seeded at-large teams are required to play in the First Four as are the four lowest automatic qualifiers. The Bruins (21-11) are seeded 41st in the tournament field, one spot ahead of St. Bonaventure (25- 7).
The First Four has been held annually in connection with the expansion of the tournament field from 65. In each year of the First Four, at least one team has won a first-round game. In 2011, VCU went from the First Four to the Final Four.
UCLA and St. Bonaventure are both considered 11th seeds. Tuesday’s winner will play sixth-seeded Florida in an East Region first-round game Thursday in Dallas.
The Bruins have won eight of their past 12 games. UCLA finished in a three-way tie for third in the Pac-12 Conference with an 11-7 record in conference play and lost to eventual champion Arizona, 78-67, in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament Friday.
“This team has been through a lot,” Alford said in an apparent reference to the shoplifting arrests of freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley in China before the season opener, their indefinite suspensions, Ball’s withdrawal from school and the decision to have Hill and Riley remain suspended for the remainder of the season.
“I’m extremely proud of how hard they’ve worked, how hard they’ve stayed together. Now they get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament.”
The Bonnies were second in the 14-team Atlantic 10 Conference and had a 13-game winning streak ended with an 82-70 loss to Davidson in a semifinal of the Atlantic 10 Championship Saturday.
Their 25 victories tied the school record with its 1970 Final Four team, led by Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier. The 1970 team played 28 games, four less than this edition has.
This will be St. Bonaventure’s seventh appearance in the NCAA tournament and first since 2012.
The Bonnies have three players averaging in double figures scoring — senior guards Jaylen Adams (19.8) and Matt Mobley (18.5) and junior swingman Courtney Stockard (12.9).
St. Bonaventure University was founded in 1858 as the nation’s first Franciscan university. It is located 75 miles south of Buffalo near Olean, New York, nestled in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. Its enrollment is 2,100 — 1,635 undergraduates and 465 graduate students, according to the university.
UCLA’s enrollment as of the fall quarter was 45,428 — 31,002 undergraduates, 13,025 graduate students and 1,401 medical residents and interns, according to the university.
Prominent St. Bonaventure alumni include Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian, SiriusXM Radio CEO James Meyer and former CBS and NBC correspondent Victoria Corderi.
This is the 49th time UCLA has advanced to the NCAA tournament and fourth time in Alford’s five seasons.
The Bruins participation in the tournament means their players will miss at least three days of classes in the final week of instruction in the winter quarter. Finals will begin next Monday when the team would be preparing for a East Region semifinal if it wins its next three games.
“It’s a tough time for us,” Alford said. “It’s a demanding stretch for our guys. We’re going to have to do a good job of trying to help our guys as much as we can when they get a chance to study.”
—City News Service