UCLA entered the 2017 NCAA Tournament with championship aspirations. Instead, they couldn’t even reach the quarterfinals.
The third-seeded Bruins were bounced in the Sweet 16 by No. 2 seed Kentucky, which went on to lose to eventual champion North Carolina in the Elite Eight.
Lonzo Ball, a projected top-three pick in this summer’s NBA draft and UCLA’s unquestioned best player, was a non-factor in the loss, managing just 10 points on 10 shots. And while Ball went silent, his Kentucky counterpart, De’Aaron Fox, went off, scoring a game-high 39 points in the Wildcats’ 86-75 win.
Ball’s father, however, wouldn’t blame the loss on his son’s off night. In LaVar Ball’s eyes, UCLA failed to advance because they had too many “white guys” on the court.
“Realistically, you can’t win no championship with three white guys because the foot speed is too slow,” LaVar Ball told the Southern California News Group on Thursday. “I told Lonzo: ‘One of these games you might need to go for 30 or 40 points.’ It turned out that was the one game. Then once they get to the Elite Eight, they’re right there.”
LaVar Ball, who’s relished the spotlight provided by his three sons’ basketball exploits, also said Lonzo was playing injured during the Sweet 16 defeat.
“People thought he was giving up, but he popped his hamstring,” LaVar Ball said. “He said ‘I was trying to run, but my hamstring was pulled.’ But he’s never going to make excuses.”
He added: “You’ve got to kill him to get him off the court. If you get in a bar fight and your eyeball gets knocked out, you can’t go outside and say my eye’s hurt. You got to go in there and fight with your eye hanging out. You never leave your brothers hanging on the court.”
Thumbnail photo via Justin Ford/USA TODAY Sports Images