NCAA Tournament Preview: Stephen F. Austin vs. UCLA


Stephen F. Austin’s upset of VCU is the third 12 seed vs. 5 seed bracket buster of this year’s NCAA Tournament. Lumberjacks G Desmond Hayman’s miraculous four-point play set the stage with 3.6 seconds left when the senior buried a three-pointer with a VCU defender draped all over him. Hayman then hit the free throw, sending the game to extra time, where SFA would come away with an improbable 77-75 victory, joining 12 seed spoilers Harvard and North Dakota State in the round of 32.

Stephen F. Austin’s road to the NCAA Tournament met with little resistance. After ripping through their non-conference slate with 11 wins to just two losses, the Lumberjacks skated through the Southland Conference unscathed en route to an 18-0 finish and both the regular season and conference tournament crowns. First year head coach Brad Underwood now has his program sitting one win away from the Sweet 16 with its first ever tournament win.

Perhaps the most telling stat line of the game was the Lumberjacks shooting a stellar 52.9 percent from the floor, while holding the Rams to 46.2 percent. SFA’s clutch free throw shooting—they converted 17 of 23 from the line—and 35-29 advantage on the boards were also instrumental.

Meanwhile, UCLA also finished 2013-14 with both strong non-conference and conference results on its way to the NCAA’s. After rattling off their first eight non-league games, the Bruins would drop two of their last five and take an 11-2 record into PAC-12 play. UCLA’s conference effort was spotty, but they would finish in second place with a league record of 12-6 and upend then no. 4 Arizona 75-71 to win the PAC-12 Tournament.

In their second round game against Tulsa, the Bruins connected on 46.0 percent from the floor and 31.3 from outside the arc to their opponent’s 36.8 from the floor and 36.8 percent from distance.  UCLA also converted 13 of 15 from the free throw line and forced 16 turnovers, while finishing with a narrow 36-33 rebounding edge. Head man Steve Alford has the daunting task of bringing one of college basketball’s most storied programs back to prominence, but with his Bruins sitting on the doorstep of a Sweet 16 appearance, the second-year coach already has a leg up.

There is a lot to like about Stephen F. Austin. Largely unknown and largely undersized—SFA’s big man is listed at 6-7—they play a scrappy brand of pressure defense because they have to. The Lumberjacks are simply too small to square up and muscle it out with most teams. Forcing turnovers is their best shot and that they do, ranking third nationally in turnover percentage with the shortest defensive possessions all season long of any team in the country. Conversely, UCLA has size to burn, even fielding a 6-9 guard/forward combo in sophomore Kyle Anderson. Its bigs include 6-10 senior twins Travis and David Wear, and 6-9 sophomore F/C Tony Parker. Each team’s strength and weaknesses do seem to play into each other in this matchup, but this is David vs. Goliath,  in a sense, and that’s what makes it so compelling. In that respect, this is an NCAA Tournament game just made for television.


Commentary By Rick Sarlat

Follow me on Twitter @RickSarlat


LA Times