UCLA has made Final Four history once again — which doesn’t seem particularly fair, considering how often the Bruins have enjoyed making it to the NCAA Tournament’s national semifinal round.
This time, however, UCLA isn’t playing the role of unstoppable juggernaut. Mick Cronin’s 2020-21 squad is playing the part of Cinderella. The Bruins are only the second First Four team ever to make the Final Four, and only the fifth 11 seed to accomplish the feat.
As we said, it doesn’t seem fair; but the Bruins put the work in to reach this stage of the NCAA Tournament.
How did Cronin and Co. get here? Through the NCAA Tournament’s East Region, for starters. First, they overcame a 14-point deficit to fellow First Four opponent Michigan State and beat them 86-80 in overtime. Following that, the Bruins managed to secure an 11-point win over 6-seed BYU, the same team that drove undefeated Gonzaga — whom the Bruins will play next — to the brink in the West Coast Conference final.
Following that, UCLA cruised to a 67-47 victory over 14-seed Abilene Christian before struggling to an 88-78 overtime win against SEC regular-season and tournament champion Alabama (the 2 seed). Finally, the Bruins punched their ticket to the Final Four with yet another gutsy, defensive performance: this time against Sporting News Coach of the Year Juwan Howard and the Big Ten regular-season champion Wolverines. The Bruins won 51-49.
It has truly been an incredible run for UCLA — and it hasn’t ended yet. But it begs the question of how their current run compares to other teams that have overcome similar difficulties. Well, question no longer.
Sporting News is here to show you exactly how Cronin’s Bruins compare to other previous 11 seeds who have made the Final Four:
Last time an 11 seed made the Final Four
The last time an 11 seed made the Final Four was in 2018 when Loyola Chicago and Sister Jean took March Madness by storm. It was so recent that a freshman on that team, one Cameron Krutwig, was able to become an NCAA Tournament standout once again in 2021. Prior to that, the next-most recent 11 seed to make the Final Four was VCU in 2011. The Rams’ Final Four run was special in that they were the first team to do it as a First Four team.
How many 11 seeds have made it to the Final Four?
Including UCLA in 2021, five 11 seeds have made the Final Four, starting with LSU in 1986. The second such team did not appear until 20 years later, in 2006, when George Mason replicated the feat. It took considerably less time for the next 11 seed to make the Final Four: VCU in 2011 was next up. Loyola Chicago and UCLA pulled it off in 2018 and ’21, respectively.
Below is a rundown of each of the previous four teams’ runs, including opponents, margin of victory and key players:
Stats reflect NCAA Tournament numbers
- 84-87 20T win over Purdue (Southeast 6 seed)
- 83-81 win over Memphis State (Southeast 3 seed )
- 70-64 win Georgia Tech (Southeast 2 seed)
- 59-57 win Kentucky (Southeast 1 seed)
- 88-77 loss to Louisville (West 2 seed)
Margin of victory: 4.3 points per game
- Derrick Taylor (16.2 ppg, 3.8 apg, 3.2 spg)
- Anthony Wilson (13.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.4 spg)
- Don Redden (21.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 51.9 field goal percentage)
- Ricky Blanton (9.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 70.4 field goal percentage)
- John Williams (14 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4.0 apg)
George Mason (2006)
- 75-65 win over Michigan State (D.C. 6 seed)
- 65-60 win over North Carolina (D.C. 3 seed)
- 63-55 win over Wichita State (D.C. 7 seed)
- 86-84 OT win over UConn (D.C. 1 seed)
- 73-58 loss to Florida (Minneapolis 3 seed)
Margin of victory: 6.3 points per game
- Jai Lewis (11.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.8 spg)
- Lamar Butler (14.4 ppg, 55.8 field goal percentage)
- WIll Thomas (13.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg)
- Tony Skinn (11.3 ppg)
- Folarin Campbell (15.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 62.5 field goal percentage)
- 59-46 win over USC (Southwest 11 seed)
- 74-56 win over Georgetown (Southwest 6 seed)
- 94-76 win over Purdue (Southwest 3 seed)
- 72-71 OT win over Florida State (Southwest 10 seed)
- 71-61 win over Kansas (Southwest 1 seed)
- 70-62 loss to Butler (Southeast 8 seed)
Margin of victory: 12 points per game
- Jamie Skeen (17.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 47.8 field goal percentage)
- Bradford Burgess (15.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.2 spg, 1.7 bpg)
- Joey Rodriguez (9.0 ppg, 7.7 apg)
Loyola Chicago (2018)
- 64-62 win over Miami (South 6 seed)
- 63-62 win over Tennessee (South 3 seed)
- 68-68 win over Nevada (South 7 seed)
- 78-62 win over Kansas State (South 9 seed)
- 68-57 loss to Michigan (West 3 seed)
Margin of victory: 4.8 points per game
- Clayton Custer (12.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.4 apg)
- Donte Ingram (7.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
- Cameron Krutwig (10.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.8 apg)
- Aundre Jackson (11.8 ppg, 57.5 field goal percentage)
How UCLA compares
- 86-80 OT win over Michigan State (East 11 seed)
- 73-62 win over BYU (East 6 seed)
- 67-47 win over Abilene Christian (East 14 seed)
- 88-78 OT win over Alabama (East 2 seed)
- 51-49 win over Michigan (East 1 seed)
Margin of victory: 9.8 points per game
- Jaime Jaquez Jr. (14.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.6 spg)
- Johnny Juzang (21.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 47.7 field goal percentage)
- Tyger Campbell (8.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
- Jules Bernard (10.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
- Cody Riley (8.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg)