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Sweet redemption: UCLA tops Cincy in thriller

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

March 17
What a magnificent season the Cincinnati Bearcats had. They were one of the premier teams in America and earned the right to be a No. 1 seed. But standing in their way Sunday were the UCLA Bruins, a dangerous No. 8 seed. The Bruins showed their incredible potential with a win over Kansas earlier this season. And they showed it again Sunday with a thrilling 105-101 double-overtime win over Cincinnati.

The problem this season has been that you never knew which UCLA team would show up. Well, the Bruins are showing up big-time at tourney time -- the most important time of the year.

Isn't ironic that UCLA hooks up with Missouri next? It's Steve Lavin against Quin Snyder, two coaches who have been maligned by the media for their teams' inconsistency.
It seems that UCLA coach Steve Lavin has had a cat's nine lives. But the bottom line is that he finds a way to survive. Now he's going to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in six years. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they're not satisfied with hanging banners that say "Sweet 16" at Pauley Pavilion -- no, it's the national-championship banner that counts at UCLA. The Bruins have 11 of them -- 10 under legendary coach John Wooden and one under Jim Harrick (currently Georgia's coach). That, my friends, is what it's about in L.A. -- ultimate success is all that matters.

This game was a classic matchup. UCLA center Dan Gadzuric (26 points) was huge on the interior, dominating Cincy in the lane. Bruins sharpshooter Jason Kapono scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half. Freshman point guard Cedric Bozeman handled the ball with great poise. And the Bruins contained Cincinnati's scoring star, Steve Logan (18 points). Leonard Stokes kept the Bearcats in the game with 39 points, making one big play after another. But it wasn't enough.

UCLA's athletes are talented enough to win it all, and in reaching the Sweet 16 they've found redemption after an inconsistent season (much like Missouri and Kentucky). Isn't ironic that UCLA hooks up with Missouri next? It's Lavin against Quin Snyder, two coaches who have been maligned by the media for their teams not playing to their potential. But here they are. Both clubs were in the preseason top 10, yet only one will move on the Elite Eight.

UCLA vs. Missouri in the Sweet 16: two talented, athletic teams with two leaders who have battled adversity and rallied their troops to respond at the most important time of the college basketball season ... March Madness.

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