SAN DIEGO (AP) — UCLA has the tradition and never-ending expectations.
Stephen F. Austin? The Lumberjacks thought it was cool getting a police escort from the arena to their hotel following the first NCAA tournament victory in school history.
That victory was a big one, an overtime thriller against VCU that ran the Lumberjacks’ winning streak to 29. They haven’t lost since five days before Thanksgiving.
Sunday’s game between the fourth-seeded Bruins (27-8) and the 12th-seeded Lumberjacks (32-2) will be big, too.
The Bruins, under first-year coach Steve Alford, would love to get back to the Sweet 16 for the first time in six seasons. Alford was hired to replace Ben Howland, who was fired a year ago because the Bruins had won only two NCAA tournament games since 2008.
Alford is expected to get UCLA back to being UCLA.
“There is not another place in the country that hangs 11 national championship banners,” Alford said Saturday, a day after the Bruins beat Tulsa 76-59. “There is not another place in the country that has an icon legend like John Wooden that’s done that much for basketball on and off the court and a bar that’s raised like that.
“You can’t be good one out of every four years,” he added. “You’ve got to be relevant every year. That’s the culture that we want to continue at UCLA.”
The Lumberjacks, from Nacogdoches, Texas, started their NCAA tournament tradition on Friday. Desmond Haymon’s four-point play with 3.6 seconds left sent the game into overtime, and the Jacks held on for a 77-75 victory.
Haymon got a lot of attention around the country and from friends and family members.
“All that won’t mean anything if we don’t come take care of business tomorrow,” he said. “I hope the team stays humble. It meant a lot for the shot to go down but we are focusing on something else right now.”
Staying humble probably won’t be hard for the Lumberjacks, who are from a town that has fewer people (2010 census: 32,996) than UCLA has students (39,500).
For now, the Jacks have a gee-whiz outlook.
“I think the police escort is pretty cool,” junior forward Jacob Parker said. “Me and Thomas (Walkup) were talking in the room the other day, the Gatorade and the water in the locker room is nice.”
Sunday will be four months to the day of SFA’s last loss, at East Tennessee State.
“The scary part is on one-day prep, you’re preparing for somebody that they don’t know anything but winning and that’s a great credit to their coaching staff and players,” Alford said. “You’ve got a culture in that locker room that hasn’t experience any kind of loss since late November.”
Here are five things to watch when Stephen F. Austin plays UCLA:
TALE OF THE TAPE: The Lumberjacks’ NCAA tournament history can be summed up rather quickly. They lost to Syracuse by 15 points in the 2009 tourney and beat VCU on Friday. That’s it. UCLA, by comparison, has more national titles than any school and is in the tournament for the 46th time. Its overall NCAA tournament record is 101-38.
SAN DIEGO CONNECTIONS: UCLA Junior guard Norman Powell, who scored 15 points against Tulsa, played at Lincoln High while Stephen F. Austin reserve forward Tanner Clayton played at Rancho Bernardo High. And, of course, San Diego is where Wooden won his 10th and final national title, in 1975.
THE LAST LOSS: Stephen F. Austin hasn’t been saddled with an L since Nov. 23. Since then it’s been all Ws. The Jacks’ 29-game winning streak is second only to undefeated Wichita State’s 35-game streak. “Their last loss was my birthday,” Alford said, “by coach Murry Bartow, who is a good friend of mine at East Tennessee State. That’s a long time.”
FREE SPIRIT: SFA’s Parker is nicknamed “Sunshine” and wears Spiderman socks. The floppy-haired Parker, who was named Southland Conference Player of the Year, is from Bixby, Okla. “He enjoys having fun,” first-year coach Brad Underwood said. “And he would be just as comfortable probably in a ‘Duck Dynasty’ episode as he would be playing basketball. But his poise and patience and ability to be who he is off the court has allowed him to be the player of the year.” Parker averages 14.4 points and seven rebounds.
SERIES HISTORY: The Bruins won the only previous meeting between the teams, 109-88 on Dec. 18, 1995. Toby Bailey had his only career triple-double with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
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