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March 21, 2014

UCLA routs Tulsa in opening game of NCAA Tournament

SAN DIEGO -- UCLA and Tulsa had quite the opening act to follow in Viejas Arena on Friday.

The No. 4 seed Bruins and No. 13 Golden Hurricane's Round of 64 matchup was delayed due to an overtime thriller that unfolded in the game before them, in which No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin upset No. 5 VCU.

The winner would play the Lumberjacks in the Round of 32 on Sunday.

Upset was a prelude to UCLA's NCAA Tournament opener in more than one way, as the last time the Bruins faced Tulsa in the NCAA Tournament, they were upset in 1994 in overtime as a 5 seed, much like VCU.

"You see a lot of higher seeds go down in the first game just because of the jitters of being the NCAA Tournament and being on national TV," freshman guard Bryce Alford said.

Knowing they'd have to show up ready to play against a Tulsa team that hasn't lost a game since Feb. 6, the Bruins came out strong, outpacing the Golden Hurricane with their up-tempo offense.

UCLA established an early lead and would pad its advantage to as many as nine points, but Tulsa's sophomores D'Andre Wright and James Woodard prevented the Bruins from opening up the game.

With 5:14 left in the first half, Wright and Woodard set the Golden Hurricane on an 11-2 run over 3:36 to tie the score at 30 with 1:38 left in the first half.

"I thought Tulsa did a great job in the first half in particular. We got out of rhythm and we didn't make shots we normally had been making," UCLA head coach Steve Alford said.

However, as soon as Tulsa appeared poised to take its first lead of the game, UCLA's star sophomores Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams combined for five quick points to send the Bruins into the locker room with a 35-30 lead.

Twenty minutes from their first NCAA Tournament win in three years, the Bruins opened the second half on a 10-2 run, thanks to Adams and junior guard Norman Powell, which boosted their lead to 47-34 with 16:09 remaining.

UCLA continued to carry a double-digit lead well into the second half, and was trending towards a relatively effortless victory, but Tulsa had no intention of surrendering to defeat without putting up a fight.

The Golden Hurricane, who were beginning their first NCAA Tournament berth in 11 years, put together a 9-0 run just past the midway point in the second period that narrowed the Bruins' lead to a mere five points with 5:39 to play.

With momentum swaying in Tulsa's favor and a potential upset brewing, head coach Steve Alford called a timeout, hoping to snuff out the Golden Hurricane's run.

Coming out of the break, Alford's son, Bryce, knocked down a much-need jumper for UCLA.

Tulsa responded with a jumper of its own from Wright, who finished with a team-high 18 points; however, UCLA snapped back with six unanswered points that lifted it to a double-digit lead with four minutes remaining.

From there, it was no turning back for the Bruins, who then finished the game with a definitive 17-5 run, notching their first NCAA Tournament win since 2011.

"That's a really good, talented 4 seed," said Tulsa head coach Danny Manning, who was named Conference USA Coach of the Year. "They came out tonight and they dictated. They controlled the game."

"We've got a lot of guys scoring. We got a lot of balance, a lot of guys that can make shots, and we take care of the basketball. We did that again tonight," Coach Alford said. "We go to another level when we guard, and I thought we did a really good job of guarding tonight."

As they aim to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in six years, UCLA will play Stephen F. Austin in the Round of 32 on Sunday.

"It's going to be fun," Bryce Alford said. "It's going to be a really fun atmosphere, but we'll be ready."


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