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The best and worst from Sweet 16 Sunday

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Hey, a buzzer-beater!

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-UCLA at Alabama Doug McSchooler-USA TODAY Sports

Well, we have reached the end of the daily recap portion of the NCAA tournament. As always, thanks to everyone who has been reading.

Let’s go out with a bang.

Best Game

(11) UCLA 88, (2) Alabama 78 (East)

As far as entertainment value is concerned, Sweet 16 Sunday wound up playing out almost exactly the same as Sweet 16 Saturday did. The third game of the day was spectacular, while the other three were fairly unremarkable blowouts.

Though the final margin wound up being 10 points, it isn’t difficult to make the case that UCLA-Bama was the best game of the tournament so far. You know it’s not difficult because the Turner studio crew made the statement about five thousand times Sunday night.

UCLA appeared to have the game won in regulation when Cody Riley’s lay-in made it 63-62 with 14 seconds left, and then Herb Jones — a 75 percent foul shooter for Alabama — missed both of his attempts with 6 seconds left. A pair of made free-throws by the Bruins’ David Singleton pushed the lead to three, and set the stage for this:

The first true buzzer-beater of this NCAA tournament came off the hands of Alabama’s Alex Reese, and it was so pure that the net barely moved. Those three points were the only ones Reese scored all night.

Despite Alabama seeming to have all the momentum in the world heading into overtime, it was UCLA that dominated the extra period. The Bruins picked themselves up off the mat, scored 14 of the first 19 points of OT, and rolled to a 10-point win that locked up the program’s first regional final appearance since 2008. UCLA had lost its last three games in the Sweet 16, and head coach Mick Cronin had lost in his only other trip to the second weekend, which came back in 2012.

For years to come, Alabama fans will be pointing to the team’s 11-for-25 performance from the free-throw line. As memorable as Reese’s shot to end regulation was, not getting the job done in OT means the stat from the charity stripe will likely be the more prominent memory from this one, at least in Tuscaloosa.

Team That Won It Best

Michigan

The game that many people believed would be the most competitive of Sunday wound up being a dud, as Michigan beat up on Florida State for 40 minutes before walking away with a 76-58 win.

The Wolverines dominated the bully-ball oriented Seminoles inside, outscoring them 50-28 in the paint.

Juwan Howard’s team forced FSU into 10 first half turnovers, and didn’t allow them to get past the 20-point mark until seconds before halftime. Florida State finished with fewer than 60 points for the first time all season.

This one was fairly simple: Michigan just did all the things Florida State likes to do, and did them way, way better than the Seminoles for 40 minutes. Now they get UCLA on Tuesday night with a trip to the program’s third Final Four in eight years on the line.

Biggest Disappointment

Alabama

Creighton, Oregon and Florida State all got manhandled in regulation, but when you’re the only better-seeded team of the day to lose and that loss was a 2 to an 11, there’s really no other option here.

Make a few free-throws and this isn’t an issue.

All-Sweet 16 Sunday Team

Jaime Jaquez, UCLA

The sophomore guard continued his monster March, playing all 45 minutes and scoring a team-high 17 points in UCLA’s overtime upset of Alabama. Jaquez also had eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and one block.

Isaiah White, USC

Tahj Eaddy was the guy who seemed to hit every backbreaking shot for USC on Sunday, but it was White who was the team’s standout contributor. The senior guard finished with a team-high 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. He also added five rebounds and three steals for good measure.

Franz Wagner, Michigan

Wagner did a little bit of everything for the Wolverines in their dominating win over Florida State. He finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and one block.

Eugene Omoruyi, Oregon

The Oregon big man was the only reason the Ducks stayed remotely close with USC on Sunday night. He finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds.

Andrew Nembhard, Gonzaga

The Florida transfer was at his best against Creighton, scoring 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting, dishing eight assists, and turning the ball over just once in 36 minutes of court time.

Three Cheers

1. Los Angeles

UCLA is about to play in a regional final for the first time since 2008, USC for the first time since 2001, and for the first time in history, Los Angeles has two schools in the Elite Eight at the same time.

I just can’t imagine how insane that city is right now. Bruin car flags everywhere you look. Coffee shops flooded with Trojan shirts. Production on every major movie/television show in the area halted so producers and actors can spend the next 24 hours breaking down Michigan and Gonzaga game film.

What a time to be a diehard college basketball fan in LA.

2. The football press break

One of the unquestioned breakout stars of this tournament has been gaining more and more traction in recent years.

I’ll say this: I don’t think I’ve ever seen the football inbounds play not work, at least as far as successfully getting the ball inbounds goes.

3. A true buzzer-beater

With the end of the Sweet 16 in sight and still no true buzzer-beater on this tournament’s resume, I was beginning to press the panic button a little bit. The double-digit upsets have been historic and the Final Four is shaping up to be loaded, but this tournament would have been forever incomplete if it didn’t get at least one of what is typically one of its defining features.

Thank goodness for Alabama and for Alex Reese. The night didn’t end the way you wanted it to, but hey, you’re definitely going to be in “One Shining Moment.” That’s cool.

Three Jeers

1. Complaining about a “boring” Sweet 16

The people who complain about the “lackluster” matchups of the Sweet 16 during chaotic tournaments are the same ones who bitch and moan about the “lack of excitement” in years where the chalk mostly prevails over the tournament’s opening weekend.

Look, something has to give somewhere.

In years where a ton of double digit seeds pull first round upsets and a few advance to the Sweet 16, you’re probably going to have a handful of unsexy Sweet 16 matchups. In years where the first weekend is “boring,” the first two days of the second weekend are probably going to be pretty damn good.

People not only want to be entertained for every damn second of this month, they want to be entertained in a way that is perfectly catered to their specific interests. Some people want to see all the top seeds battle it out in the tournament’s final few days, others want constant chaos and an Oral Roberts national championship. The result is that no one is ever going to be completely satisfied by March Madness ... which is understandable, I guess, but also kind of ridiculous.

Even during the best of tournaments, one round typically has to be packaged as a dud and sacrificed to the Basketball Gods of March. The sooner you accept, the more you’re going to be able to enjoy this event.

Here’s hoping the Sweet 16 is that round for the 2021 Big Dance.

2. East Coast hoops

Only one team from the Eastern Time Zone is still alive, and that team is on the extreme western edge of the Eastern Time Zone.

For comparison’s sake, five of the eight teams in the 2019 regional finals were from the Eastern Time Zone.

This is a sport where no team West of Kansas has won a national title since Arizona cut down the nets in 1997. We were long overdue for a West Coast resurgence. Now the only question is whether or not this tournament is a one-off, or a sign of things to come.

3. The hour break

With all due respect to Gonzaga-Creighton and Michigan-Florida State, there was nothing about those two games that resulted in the viewing public needing to catch its collective breath for Alabama-UCLA. If anything, they should have started game three like midway through the second half of the Wolverines’ trouncing of FSU.

I love that we’ve gotten individual windows for every Sweet 16 game for the first time this year, but the schedule for said games remains baffling. There’s no reason to start the action after 2 p.m. ET, there’s no reason for a monster gap between any of the games, and there’s REALLY no reason for the action on both Saturday and Sunday to have ended after midnight on the East Coast.

I’d love to see the basic setup for the second weekend stay this way moving forward, but the tip-time schedule could use an obvious tweaking to make the product the best for all parties concerned.

Best Dunk

Evan Mobley, USC

I believe the young man has a future in this sport.

3 Best Images

1. Bruins march on

These guys have seemed to be perfectly in sync all month.

UCLA v Alabama Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

2. No other team in sight

Perfectly emblematic of how the tournament feels right now.

Creighton v Gonzaga Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

3. Reese at the buzzer

If you’re only going to score three points in a game, make sure they matter.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-UCLA at Alabama Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

3 Best Quotes

1. “We weren’t good enough to beat them tonight. They were better. We had all the momentum going into overtime. They could have folded. They didn’t. They came out and punched us in the mouth.” —Alabama head coach Nate Oats

2. “He takes what the defense gives, he has confidence in his teammate. When your most talented offensive player is your most unselfish and most willing passer, you can win a lot of games like that.” —USC head coach Andy Enfield on freshman star Evan Mobley

3. “I let the guys down. I didn’t have them ready for that zone. I thought we were, but their length and athleticism really bothered us.” —Oregon head coach Dana Altman

Elite Eight Schedule

Monday, March 29

7:15 p.m.: Midwest (12) Oregon State vs. (2) Houston, at Lucas Oil Stadium, CBS

9:57 p.m.: South (3) vs. Arkansas vs. (1) Baylor, at Lucas Oil Stadium, CBS

Tuesday, March 30

7:15 p.m.: West (6) USC vs. (1) Gonzaga, at Lucas Oil Stadium, TBS

9:57 p.m.: East (11) UCLA vs. (1) Michigan, at Lucas Oil Stadium, TBS