Philadelphia, PA – The relentless Caleb Love led the No. 8-seed North Carolina Tar Heels (27-9) to a thrilling 73-66 victory and closed out strong against the No. 4-seed UCLA Bruins (27-8) in the NCAA Sweet 16 on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center. North Carolina advances to their 27th Elite Eight appearance where they will face the No. 15-seed Saint Peter’s Peacocks.
With the Tar Heels season on the line, Love erupted for 30 points and led the charge in crunch time.
“Tonight’s game was a must win,” said Love. “It was the game to get to the Elite Eight. I’m just proud of our guys. My teammates are wonderful. Our coaching staff is the best in the country. So, they put us in a position to win and that’s what we did.”
Love scored just three points in the first half but kicked it into second gear dropping 27 points in the second.
He changed his shoes at halftime.
“Hoots told me to change them because I never play good in the black shoes. So, he told me to change them, and it worked out,” said Love.
North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis was unaware of the shoe change.
“I didn’t even know he switched shoes. The Director of Player Personnel, I’m going to give him a raise. Just let Hoots know. I don’t think it was the shoes. I just think that Caleb played really well.”
UCLA led for most of the first half and was up 31-28 going into the locker room.
The Love Train took off during the second half as he hit back-to-back threes to give the Tar Heels a three-point advantage 67-64 with just under a minute left.
“Caleb, because of his size and athleticism he’s the one guy probably the best on the wing that can create his own shot at any given time. The area that I think he was really good tonight – and he talked about it — he started inside out. I think because of his aggressiveness towards the basket, he found a rhythm beyond the three and he just got hot,” said coach Davis.
A put back by Armando Bacot made it a five-point game 69-64 with 15.5 seconds remaining.
This was officially the nail in the coffin.
“Whether we’re able to close out or not, we have great peace and confidence to be able to close out games because we’ve done that before. We’ve always stepped up to the challenge whether it’s worked out for us, or not. In those situations, we grab and hold on to those past experiences and it gives us confidence and it gives us peace,” said coach Davis.
UCLA head coach Mick Cronin described from his standpoint what transpired in the last couple of minutes of the game.
“Well, look, as a coach you can get upset about certain things. The truth is we had a lot of good execution and the ball didn’t go in. Our last three threes were wide open. Johnny missed a couple. Jaime had a couple clean looks that just didn’t go in, and Caleb Love made good shots.”
With this win, North Carolina leads 11-3 in the all-time series against UCLA.
“On Sunday it will be our toughest game of the year,” said coach Davis.
The No. 8-seed North Carolina Tar Heels move on to the Elite Eight and take on the No. 15-seed Saint Peter’s Peacocks on Sunday, March 27th at 2:05 p.m.