|St. Bonaventure-UCLA Preview|
UCLA must take the longest route possible for coach Steve Alford to finally go past the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament after reaching that point in three of his first four years as Bruins coach.
The 11th-seeded Bruins (22-11) will play fellow No. 11 seed St. Bonaventure (25-7) on Tuesday in the East Regional as part of the First Four in Dayton, Ohio. The winner will be the No. 11 seed in the East Region and face No. 6 Florida (20-12) on Thursday in Dallas.
St. Bonaventure is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012 after securing its first at-large bid since 2000.
"Would we like to be playing two games instead of three? Yeah, but we don't control that, so we know we're in Dayton and we're playing St. Bonaventure, so we've just got to get to work on them," Alford said about having to play an extra game.
It will be UCLA's first appearance in a play-in game. Crosstown rival USC played in one last season, beating Providence and then defeating Southern Methodist in the first round before losing to Baylor in the second round.
St. Bonaventure won 13 consecutive games -- including a victory over then-No. 14 Rhode Island last month -- before falling to Davidson in an Atlantic 10 Conference tournament semifinal on Saturday.
"We couldn't be happier. This is a lifelong dream," said St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt, who took over a program 11 years ago that won only 24 games in the four years before his arrival.
Schmidt, who told fans in St. Bonaventure's gym that his team is "going to Dayton to beat UCLA," has coached the Bonnies to three consecutive 20-win seasons.
UCLA enters the tournament on a peak, defeating USC before beating Stanford in a Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal and taking Arizona to overtime before losing.
The Bruins have lost in the Sweet 16 in 2014, 2015 and 2017 under Alford, who has not survived past that round in his 22 years of coaching at the Division I level.
St. Bonaventure's at-large hopes were boosted by victories over Syracuse and Maryland.
The Bonnies strengthened their bid after starting the Atlantic 10 with a 2-4 record. They ended the regular season on an 11-game winning streak before winning two games in the conference tournament.
"I think our resume speaks for itself," said point guard Jaylen Adams, who averages 19.8 points per game.
Adams' backcourt mate Matt Mobley averages 18.5 points per game.
St. Bonaventure has made the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in program history and twice under Schmidt. The Bonnies fell in the second round to Florida State in 2012, their last tournament appearance.
The Bruins are second in the Pac-12 in scoring at 81.9 points per game and lead the conference in rebounding (38.8 per game, including 28.5 defensive rebounds per game) and 3-point field goal percentage (38.3).
Junior guard Aaron Holiday, an All-Pac-12 selection, averages a conference-best 20.3 points per game and shoots 44.3 percent from the field.
Senior post player Thomas Welsh ranks second in the Pac-12 in rebounds (10.7 per game). He secured second-team All-Pac-12 honors and is one of five finalists for the 2018 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award.