Opinion: Mick Cronin’s UCLA Bruins show their toughness in men’s Sweet 16 upset of Alabama

In his first meeting two years ago with the players he was inheriting at UCLA, Mick Cronin wanted to make one thing clear. He wasn’t going to blame them for being on a roster he didn’t recruit, he wasn’t going to encourage them to go elsewhere if they wanted to stay and he wasn’t going to talk about a future with quote-unquote his players. 

“You show up in workouts tomorrow, you’re my player,” Cronin said. “Some people take jobs and everyone is running for the hills. But everybody showed up and we got to work. I told the guys, if you’ll listen and hang in there it’s not going to be easy but you’ll be able to have pride and be able to hold up your end of the bargain at UCLA.”

The bargain, as it were, has been fulfilled and then some. The UCLA Bruins — the gutty, resilient, irrationally confident UCLA Bruins — have gone from the NCAA Tournament bubble to the Elite Eight after an 88-78 overtime win over No. 2 seed Alabama that fulfilled every promise Cronin made to his players from the day he walked on campus. 

After absorbing what could have been an all-time tournament gut punch when Alabama’s Alex Reese made a tying 3-pointer with fewer than two seconds left in regulation, UCLA glared at one of the top-five defenses in college basketball like it was dessert. It rose from the ashes of tournament ignominy and scored seven straight points. As Alabama melted with missed free throws and wasted possessions, the Bruins embraced the pressure of the moment. 

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