ACU’s historic season reached its conclusion in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament Monday night against UCLA, 67-47.
After shocking the Texas Longhorns in the First Round, the Wildcats were hoping to become the first 14-seed in 25 years to reach the Sweet 16, but poor shooting sealed their fate.
“We had a 10-point game. We’ve been there before. And then we had some good looks to start the second half, they just didn’t go down,” said head coach Joe Golding. “And then obviously UCLA executed offensively and they were able to separate, hit some threes and got it to 20 points and then it’s going to be tough.”
The Wildcats led 12-8 early, but they struggled to keep pace offensively with UCLA (20-9, 13-6 Pac-12).
“They’ve got really, really good players,” Golding said. “They iso-ed us a bunch today and played us one-on-one, and if we go help and run around, they’ve got shooters all around the floor. They moved the ball extremely well, and they had a great game plan.”
Senior guard Mahki Morris led the Wildcats in scoring with a season-high 14 points and 6-for-12 shooting. Despite the Wildcats’ loss, Golding believes the program is heading in the right direction.
“It’s a brotherhood for the rest of our life,” Golding said. “We’re starting to build that at ACU over the last five or six years. It’s a family now. It’s a brotherhood that will last the rest of their life.”
After their win against Texas, ACU (24-5, 13-2 SLC) wasn’t taken lightly by the Bruin coaching staff and players.
“They’ve got some kids that play unbelievably hard,” said UCLA head coach Mick Cronin. “I thought the key to today’s game was the fact that we did not take them lightly. We had tremendous respect for them, their coaching, their opponent and their players.”
While the season has reached its end, the memories will last for the players, coaches and fans.
“It’s a special, special, special group of dudes, man,” Golding said. “They just have incredible attitudes, and it’s special. You can say what you want; It is what it is. Abilene Christian beat the University of Texas 48 hours ago, and that’s an incredible feat by an incredible group of men that will be remembered forever for it.”
All players were granted a redshirt season with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and have the option to return next year. The Wildcats have five seniors on the team (guards Coryon Mason, Mahki Morris, Reggie Miller and Paul Hiepler and center Kolton Kohl) that contributed 36 points per game in the 2020-21 season.
No announcement regarding their return has been announced, but Hiepler and Kohl are expected to forgo an extra season.
Golding said that after a long and tumultuous season filled with postponements and cancellations during the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s looking forward to some time off before next season’s preparation.
“I’m going on a road trip, my man,” Golding said. “I don’t know where I’m going. Hopefully I can find some water and a beach. I’m going to take my wife, and we’re going to get away for a little bit and hit the pause button. We’ve got to hit the pause button a little bit and get some rest, but then we’ve got to recruit and we’ve got to continue to build our program.”