The USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins shook the men’s basketball world with their prominent runs in March Madness. Both teams defied the odds to display their strong programs.
UCLA went from defeating Michigan State to play in the tournament to defeating the top seeded Michigan to play in the Final Four. The Bruins was one of the few programs that gave the nearly undefeated Gonzaga competition. Their Final Four bout with the Bulldogs consisted of 19 lead changes and 16 ties.
Sophomore guard Johnny Juzang displayed his shooting accuracy to a national audience, scoring over 25 points in four March Madness games. After Gonzaga defeated UCLA, he noted how their run is not a Cinderella story.
“I think that those days are behind us. We’re still in the legacy,” Juzang said. “So much history here.”
Freshman forward Evan Mobley gave the Trojans an edge with his scoring and rebounding. When the Trojans upset the Kansas Jayhawks 85-51, he scored a career high of 13 rebounds.
“Evan gets all the focus of the opposing defenses,” said USC head coach Andy Enfield. “He’s so hard to guard because he can go inside, outside, he can put the ball on the floor.”
Both teams shot well from behind the arc during the tournament. Against Kansas, USC made 11 three-pointers while UCLA made 10 when they battled against Alabama.
Both teams also were aware of their doubters and naysayers; the squads were elated to surpass their expectations.
“Once we found out that we were ranked or they had us at sixth in the Pac-12, I think we came together just to prove everyone wrong,” said USC senior guard Isaiah White. “I think when everyone doubted us, I think we really latched on to each other and grinded it.”
A 27-point performance from sophomore Jaime Jaquez Jr. helped the Bruins surpass Michigan State to reach the first round. Junior forward Cody Riley secured a double-double against Abilene Christian and Gonzaga. He also made key defensive plays against Alabama.
“Cody Riley really had some big stops, some blocked shots,” said UCLA head coach Mick Cronin. “Obviously, not easy for a guy his size to stay in front of (sophomore guard) Jahvon Quinerly, but these guys have been resilient all year.”
Junior guard Jules Bernard was another key contributor on offense in early games but fell ill right before the Final Four. Sophomore guard Tyger Campbell found his shot in their later games.
As Evan and Isaiah Mobley were major keys for the success of the Trojans, White and senior guard Tahj Eaddy stepped up offensively against Oregon.
The effort both teams put on defense also shows how they were able to make a deep run. USC committed seven blocks in their first-round game against Drake. UCLA had five steals and two blocks against Michigan.
USC and UCLA reached the Elite Eight at the same time for the first time in history. Both programs have young talent that could allude to strong runs next season. Their performance showed their skill and grit, demanding the national attention they deserved.
“Everybody is so proud to play with each other and to play for these coaches,” Juzang said about the Bruins. “Just everybody fought to the last play and the last shot is the last shot. But so grateful to call these guys teammates.”