INDIANAPOLIS – Jaime Jaquez Jr. remembers the moment Mick Cronin introduced himself at UCLA, the new coach promising to restore the shine to the storied program by instilling a mental and physical toughness the team had never experienced.
It came in handy Sunday night.
After watching second-seeded Alabama's Alex Reese take advantage of the Bruins' soft defense to drain a buzzer-beating 3-pointer and force overtime, Jaquez and the rest of his boys in blue were completely nonplussed by the moment.
Instead, they scored the first five points of the extra session, then cruised from there to an 88-78 victory that gave the No. 11 seed Bruins their first trip to the Elite Eight since 2008 — and Cronin the first of his 18-year coaching career.
“When he came to UCLA,” Jaquez said, “he basically preached the entire time, no matter what was going to happen, we were going to be a tough team, and we were going to be a defensive team. That was his whole attitude. No matter what happens, we're going to be the toughest team to go out and play.”
Now, after beating Michigan State in overtime just to escape the First Four, the unheralded Bruins are marching forward in the NCAA Tournament. Next up is top-seeded Michigan on Tuesday night for a spot in the Final Four.
“There's many times we could have packed it in,” Cronin said, “but I told them they've put up with me for two years trying to pound into them toughness and competitive spirit. They allowed me to do it and you're seeing the results right now.”
UCLA thought it had the game won in regulation when Cody Riley's lay-in made it 63-62 with 14 seconds left, and Herbert Jones — a 75% foul shooter for Alabama — missed both of his attempts with 6 seconds left.