UCLA, which finished fourth in the Pac-12 standings, is used to being the underdog in NCAA tournament games, but the Bruins will be a historic underdog when they face No. 1 Gonzaga in the national semifinals on Saturday.
At the moment nearly every betting site has the Bruins as a massive 14-point underdog to Gonzaga, which has steamrolled the field so far, including a 19-point win over USC on Tuesday.
That apparently is the largest Final Four point spread in at least 25 years.
Only two national semifinal games since 1996 have had double-digit point spreads. In 1999 Duke was an 11-point favorite against Michigan State, and Duke won by six points. In 2016, North Carolina was a 10-point favorite over No. 10 seed Syracuse, and the Tar Heels covered, winning by 17.
The 1996 championship game matched the UCLA-Gonzaga spread, when Kentucky was a 14-point favorite over Syracuse. Kentucky won the game, but failed to cover, winning by nine points.
UCLA came into March Madness on a four-game losing streak, and was an underdog in four of its five NCAA tournament games. The Bruins won all four games in which they were underdogs, and easily covered the spread in the one game they were favored.
In the only game in which it was favored, UCLA covered the spread when it beat Abilene Christian by 20 points when UCLA was a 5.5-point favorite.
Alabama was favored by 5 or 6 points (depending on the site) in its Sweet 16 game against UCLA, but the Bruins won that one by 10 in overtime.
Finally, Michigan was a 7.5-point favorite in the Elite Eight, but UCLA won that contest by two points to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2008.
The 11th-seeded Bruins are just the second team to reach the Final Foul after playing a First Four game (VCU in 2011 was the other). UCLA also tied the record for the lowest seed to reach the Final Four, joining four other teams. If they beat Gonzaga, the Bruins would be the lowest seed ever to play in the championship game and the first team to do so after playing in the preliminary round.
Few expect the Bruins to get there, though.
Gonzaga is 4-0 against the spread in the tournament despite being favored by some pretty large margins.
Gonzaga was a 33-point favorite against Norfolk State in the first round, a 15.5-point favorite against Oklahoma in the second round, a 12.5-point favorite against Creighton in the Sweet 16 and an 8.5-point favorite against USC in the Elite Eight. The Zags covered in all four and has won their four games by a combined margin of 96 points.
The Zags are trying to become the first team since Indiana in 1976 to finish the season as an undefeated national champion.
Does UCLA have a chance? Well, it seems the only way to disrupt the free-wheeling Zags is to make the game an ugly, physical, low-scoring, halfcourt contest. No team is better at that than UCLA.
By the way, Baylor is a 5-point favorite over Houston in the other national semifinal game.
BetMGM odds to win it all
Gonzaga – 4-to-9
Baylor – 3.75-to-1
Houston – 6-to-1
UCLA -- 25-to-1
BetOnline.ag odds to win it all
Gonzaga – 1-to-2
Baylor – 13-to-5 (2.6-to-1)
Houston – 7.5-to-1
UCLA – 20-to-1
Mick Cronin's postgame comments after upset of Michigan are below. He talks about defense and the physical nature of the game, which is how the Bruins have to play against Gonzaga:
Cover photo of Final Four teams is by Scott Horner, USA TODAY Network photo illustration via Imagn Content Services, LLC.
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