If there is such a thing, Sunday’s 93-91 overtime loss by the UCLA men’s basketball team to unbeaten Gonzaga in a Final Four semifinal game was a good loss.
Sure, it was a bit of a heart-breaker when Jalen Suggs banked a contested 40-foot shot at the buzzer for the Bulldogs. Bruin players and fans – even those watching on TV at home – collapsed in shocked despair.
But when everybody got up, the outlook was a lot livelier. The fellas from Westwood have awakened the echoes of the John Wooden era with an amazing post-season run and are poised to be a power for the next few seasons.
Setting aside the tremendous magnetism for recruiting created by this campaign, the Bruins are stocked with a bunch of young stars who – if they care to – can extend the miracle for a while.
“Let’s get this pandemic over with and pack Pauley Pavilion and make UCLA a yearly elite program,” said coach Mick Cronin. In only his second season from Cincinnati, he’s helmed a slow-starting squad into a confident bunch of standouts who could only be defeated by what amounted to a roundball miracle.
For example, the Bruins were playing without senior guard Chris Smith, who missed most of the season due to injury. He would eligible for another campaign. Johnny Juzang, who scored 29 points against the Zags, is just a sophomore. Jules Bernard is a junior, Cody Riley is a junior, Jaime Jaquez Jr is a sophomore and on and on. There’s only one senior – Chris Smith – on the roster.
Of course, the lure of big NBA money is powerful. But the appeal of being something historic and thereby upping your market value is nothing to sneeze at, either.
Now, let it also be said that what got the Bruins as far as they did was not just individual stardom. To anyone watching the last few UCLA games, it was clear that the Bruins were not merely a bunch of just-out-of-high-school four-star recruits playing one-on-five.
They functioned as a real team, passing, shooting, defending and rebounding with intelligence and spirit. On Sunday, against the best team in the nation, they shot almost 57 percent from the floor and had 21 assists. No one fouled out and there was an almost audible gasp of relief from Gonzaga fans of “I’m glad we don’t have to play these guys again.”
Well, it could be, it might be, that you’ll see them again next March.
“Sports Monday” is written by Pete Zarustica. He adds that the championship game is today on CBS at 6 p.m., Gonzaga vs. Baylor. If you care.