The celebrating started with just less than three minutes to play, Bryce Alford holding his hands high and wriggling his fingers to coax cheers from roaring UCLA fans.
The Bruins are headed back to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend.
It took some gutsy play from Alford and teammate TJ Leaf, who shrugged off a horrid first half to help power third-seeded UCLA to a 79-67 victory over sixth-seeded Cincinnati in an NCAA tournament second-round game Sunday evening at the Golden 1 Center.
South Carolina is heading to Madison Square Garden — and not for the NIT.
A Gamecocks program known largely — and mocked often by some — for its back-to-back NIT championships in 2005 and 2006 is now heading to the world's most famous arena as part of the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.
They are making their first appearance in the regional semifinals since the bracket expanded after an 88-81 victory Sunday night over No. 2-seeded Duke in the East Regional.
UCLA was not winning in style points or on the scoreboard at halftime Sunday evening.
The gritty, grind-it-out way the game was going favored sixth-seeded Cincinnati, which held a 33-30 lead over the third-seeded Bruins at the midpoint of their NCAA tournament second-round game at the Golden 1 Center.
UCLA struggled to make shots or play the frenzied style it liked. The Bruins made only 37.5% of their shots and 28.6% of their three-pointers, with power forward TJ Leaf going scoreless while missing all five shots.
Manu Lecomte of Baylor hadn’t scored a single point during game against USC in the NCAA tournament’s second round on Sunday.
Instead, the game was going according to USC’s NCAA tournament schedule: Early deficit, a halftime awakening and, at least until Sunday, a win.
It held until Lecomte launched a three-pointer with four minutes and 39 seconds left from the top of the key. USC was leading. It would not lead again. The three-pointer went in. He was fouled, and he made the free throw too. Then he ripped away a steal from Jordan McLaughlin, made another pair of free throws and a layup on the next possession.
Once the game ended and Oregon had narrowly advanced with a hard-fought NCAA tournament win, Tyler Dorsey considered his two missed free throws with 3:36 left and how there might have been no celebrations at all.
Instead, Dorsey delivered two clutch three-pointers to send the Ducks back to the Sweet Sixteen for a second straight year and third in five years.
Dorsey hit a contested go-ahead three-pointer from the top of the arc with 38.4 seconds left, then E.C. Matthews airballed a long three-pointer in the waning moments trying to force overtime, and third-seeded Oregon rallied in the second half to beat upstart No. 11 Rhode Island 75-72 on Sunday and reach the Midwest Regional.
For USC fans keeping score at home, they can make a note of two minutes and eight seconds. That was the time USC reached a familiar milestone: down double-digits in the first half of an NCAA tournament game.
If anything, USC can be happy it is making progress. Baylor’s 36-31 lead over USC in Sunday’s Eastern Regional second-round game was USC’s smallest halftime deficit yet.
On Friday, trailing by eight against SMU, Coach Andy Enfield said his halftime message was simple: “This is awesome!”
North Carolina's players talked all year about their run to last year's NCAA championship game — that, as painful as the loss was, it prepared them for another Final Four push.
On Sunday, down to a handful of possessions with their season suddenly in peril, the Tar Heels' experience saved them from a stunningly early exit.
Kennedy Meeks had 16 points and a huge tip-in with 44.2 seconds left, helping top-seeded UNC barely avoid a huge upset by rallying late to beat Arkansas, 72-65, in the second round of the NCAA tournament's South Region.
Everything about Josh Jackson's demeanor screamed this game was personal, from the back-and-forth chirping with childhood friend Miles Bridges to his emphatic late-game dunk and celebration.
Playing against the school he grew up cheering for, Jackson channeled that emotion into a dominating performance to help top-seeded Kansas advance to the Sweet 16 for a second straight year with a 90-70 victory over Michigan State on Sunday in a Midwest Regional game.
The standout freshman scored 14 of his 23 points in the second half, finishing nine of 16 from the field and ousting a Spartans team from the NCAA tournament that he very nearly joined before signing with the Jayhawks.