A dozen UCLA basketball players wedged into folding chairs, knees and elbows bumping against neighbors. No one touched the refrigerator jammed with sports drinks and sodas. Voices didn’t rise above a whisper.
As team managers rolled out bags of equipment, players stared at the cinder block walls and tried to make sense of the sudden end to their season in an NCAA tournament play-in game at the University of Dayton Arena.
Travis Fields Jr. and Ed Polite Jr. each scored 13 points to lift Radford to its first-ever NCAA tournament win, 71-61, over LIU Brooklyn in the First Four on Tuesday night.
Carlik Jones added 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Highlanders, who move on to face No. 1 seed Villanova on Thursday in Pittsburgh. Radford, the Big South champion, is making its third tournament appearance and first since 2009.
LIU Brooklyn stayed within striking distance for much of the game and got to within a point with five minutes left, but a 9-1 surge by the Highlanders allowed them to close it out.
Steve Alford was watching game footage in a hotel ballroom in China, preparing for a season opener only a few days away, when everything changed.
The UCLA men's basketball coach was informed that a few players had been spotted on surveillance cameras stealing items from a mall near the hotel where the team was staying. Authorities were questioning players.
The jolting development touched off a mad four-month scramble that involved more than the suspension of the three UCLA players who admitted shoplifting. There was a high-profile defection by one of them, LiAngelo Ball, following tweets from President Trump; a brutal travel schedule featuring roughly 23,500 air miles flown for nonconference games; the cancellation of a home game because of wildfires; a three-game losing streak; and a last-ditch effort to make the NCAA tournament.