UCLA advances past SMU on controversial finish

UCLA advances past SMU on controversial finish
UCLA guard Bryce Alford is tackled to the court by teammate and brother Kory after the Bruins beat SMU on Thursday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

After the call that brutally ended his career and gave UCLA an improbable 60-59 victory over Southern Methodist, Yanick Moreira blamed himself.

"It's all my fault. I should have let the ball hit the rim," Moreira said, and he broke down.


With 13 seconds left in its NCAA South Regional opener, UCLA trailed by two points as guard Bryce Alford wheeled and heaved a three-pointer.

Moreira thought the shot would miss the basket, so he jumped and tipped the ball. The officials called goaltending. He protested, his expression pained. When the game was over, decided by the goaltending call, Moreira shielded his anguished face with his jersey.

"I'm sick for those kids," SMU Coach Larry Brown said.

Even on replay, it wasn't clear whether the officials' call was correct. The ball came down near the rim. Even if it would have hit the iron, it had little chance of going in.

For goaltending, the NCAA said in a statement, the ball must be on a downward flight, be above the rim, and must have "the possibility, while in flight, of entering the basket." The statement said the "goaltending criteria was [sic] met."

Afterward, members of both teams debated the call.

"It definitely would've hit the rim," UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton said, watching a replay on a phone. "Definitely."

Said Alford: "It could've gone either way."

Brown could not understand why the call was not reviewable.

"Why would you have all these TV people and [not] take five seconds and review a goaltending?" he said. "It might have been goaltending. It probably was. But we've got all these cameras. It happened so fast."

The call would have been meaningless if not for four Alford three-pointers in the last four minutes that brought UCLA back after it had blown a 10-point lead.

Starting near the 13-minute mark, UCLA did not score for eight minutes and 40 seconds, an even a longer stretch than at the start of a December game against Kentucky when the Bruins ended up losing by 39 points. SMU scored 19 consecutive points, turning a 10-point deficit into a nine-point lead.

A Norman Powell layup ended UCLA's drought. Powell, a senior, finished with 19 points.

On the next possession, Alford made a three-pointer.


Alford has been criticized by some UCLA fans since he was brought in by his father, Steve, UCLA's coach.

"Nobody's been critiqued any more than he has on our basketball team," Steve Alford said.

After his shot pulled UCLA within five, he and Powell spoke to the team during a timeout. The team's motto, Hamilton said, has become "believe."

In the huddle, Bryce Alford and Powell asked the team to believe it could win.

After the break, Alford made another three-pointer, but then his teammates imploded. Thomas Welsh was called for an offensive foul. Powell had the ball stolen near midcourt.

SMU led by seven points with 85 seconds left.

Alford responded with yet another three-pointer, Powell made two free throws, and then UCLA got a break. Under pressure, SMU threw the ball right to Welsh. UCLA had possession with 22 seconds left, down two.

Steve Alford drew up the play. Bryce Alford was the first look in the corner. Hamilton was the second option. Both were set up to take a three-pointer that could put UCLA in the lead, but Coach Alford instructed the Bruins to just get the best shot.

Kory Alford, a reserve who did not play, knew his brother wouldn't pass it up. And he didn't.

After the goaltending, SMU guard Nic Moore had another couple of chances. He scored 24 points and had powered SMU on its 19-0 run, but his first shot, with a couple of seconds on the clock, missed. The ball found him again. He let go of another shot at the buzzer. It fell short.

UCLA players spilled onto the court. Bryce Alford ran. Kory Alford tackled him to the ground.

"Everybody in here and anyone close to us knows he belongs," Kory Alford said later.

Bryce Alford's final stat line: nine of 11 three-pointers for 27 points. The goaltending call gave him the single-season, three-point record for UCLA — 88.

UCLA will be the higher seed in the third round Saturday. Alabama Birmingham, a No. 14 seed that UCLA beat by 12 points in November, stunned third-seeded Iowa State in the game before UCLA's. The winner Saturday will advance to the South Regional semifinal in Houston.

After Thursday's game, Bryce Alford sat at his locker. On a phone, he watched a replay of the shot.

He said he knew his shot had enough on it to reach the basket and thought it would hit the rim.

Across the room, Welsh said simply, "I'll take the three points."