Richard Harward and Alex Barcello walk through the hotel at March Madness in Indianapolis. The team went viral twice over during quarantine ahead of a first-found matchup against UCLA. (Nate Edwards/BYU Photo)

BYU men’s basketball goes viral in preparation for first-round March Madness matchup against UCLA

The BYU men’s basketball team has had an eventful few days leading up to its March Madness debut.

Let’s start with the most pressing news: The Cougars will play 11-seed UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday at 7:40 p.m. MDT. The Bruins overcame an 11-point deficit in the First Four on March 18 to come back and beat the Michigan State Spartans in overtime, 86-80. 

BYU has played UCLA 22 times, with the all-time series tied at 11-11. Their most recent matchup came just last season, with the Cougars taking the victory over UCLA in the Maui Invitational, 78-63. After an impressive season and a good record against top teams, the 6-seed Cougars are the odds-on favorite to win this year as well.

The Cougars will be well-rested, having not played a game since the final of the WCC Tournament on March 9. In addition, BYU has the advantage in size, as the Bruins don’t have anyone on their roster that can match up with BYU’s 7-foot-3 senior Matt Haarms. To make matters worse for UCLA, the Bruins have one of the worst scoring defenses in the country. In order to stop Alex Barcello’s trusty mid-range jump shot, the Bruins will have to step up.

UCLA will also likely be missing its leading scorer, Johnny Juzang. The 6-foot-6 sophomore suffered a right ankle sprain against MSU that looked to be somewhat serious. The Bruins have not released anything on the matter, so the Cougars will likely prepare as if Juzang is playing.

While preparing for the first-round clash, BYU has been receiving quite a bit of attention on social media as well.

On March 18, two videos surfaced first on Twitter and then Instagram that went viral within hours. One showed the team forcefully opening an elevator to rescue fellow teammate Jesse Wade, who had apparently been trapped inside for almost an hour.

The other video showed the team waiting to receive its regular COVID-19 tests. When the nurse called a player into the room, the team enthusiastically pumped up whoever was called, as if it was player introductions before a game. 

Even more humorous, when the nurse called Wade in for his test, Wade pantomimed getting stuck in an elevator and being dramatically freed. The team’s reaction was infectious: yelling, shoving and acting as a team would after a big win. 

The videos were featured on the House of Highlights Instagram page and had millions of views within hours.

One thing is certain: If the Cougars are able to bring the same energy shown in the videos to the court on Saturday, the Bruins will be facing an uphill battle  

The game will be broadcast live on CBS on Saturday, March 20 at 7:40 p.m. MDT. 

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