UCLA beat Arkansas 89-78 on April 3, 1995, for the program's 11th men's basketball national championship. The Bruins have not won a national championship since.
That memorable night, when Ed O'Bannon scored 30 points in the upset against the defending champion Razorbacks, is the last in the Bruins' illustrious history.
The Pac-12 isn't much better — the conference hasn't won the NCAA Tournament since Arizona's 1997 title. The conference had one Final Four appearance in the 2010s. UCLA had a 19-12 record under first-year coach Mick Cronin before the Pac-12 tournament was canceled because of COVID-19.
When asked whether he's surprised at UCLA's 25-year title drought, Pac-12 analyst and former UCLA forward Don MacLean offered a mixed response.
"Yes and no," MacLean told Sporting News before the Pac-12 tournament was canceled. "It's hard to sustain success for that long. Going back to Coach (John) Wooden, that was way longer than 25 years ago. I think with (Jim) Harrick winning it in '95 — you thought there would be some more after that."
MacLean played for Harrick from 1988-92 and helped revive the program after a similar drought after Wooden — who led UCLA to 10 national championships — retired after 1974-75. The Bruins burned through five coaches with two Final Four appearances before Harrick arrived. Cronin is UCLA's fourth coach since Harrick was fired in 1996.
Why has the national championship drought continued for a quarter-century?
"In terms of the landscape of college basketball, UCLA has gone through some transitions. They've had coaching changes and it's been kind of stop-and-start ever since," MacLean said. "When you have that unlike Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina and Michigan State, their coaches have been there for a while. You expect them to have that success."
The Bruins had three consecutive Final Four appearances under Ben Howland from 2006-08. MacLean said Howland's run is easy to gloss over, but it also led to a self-examination of the program.
"It took some time to get off of, 'We're UCLA, we're a blue blood because of former success,'" MacLean said. "Well, you kind of have to keep up with the times along the way."
The talent isn't the issue. UCLA has 38 NBA Draft picks — including 18 first-round picks since 1995. That includes top-five talents such as Baron Davis (1999), Russell Westbrook (2008), Kevin Love (2008) and Lonzo Ball (2017).
The resources to compete with the other blue bloods are the next part: UCLA now has a state-of-the-art practice facility. The third part is Cronin, who won Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors in his first season. There still is a long way to go to catch back up to the blue bloods.
"He is embracing the challenge," MacLean said. "Not that recent coaches haven't, but he's saying things that are a little bit different that makes you think that he wants to get it back. He doesn't want to have success for him and for now. He feels a responsibility to get UCLA back to where it should be."
Will that end the drought? Some perspective is needed. The Yankees have not won the World Series since 2009. Notre Dame football hasn't won a national championship since 1988. The Bruins are stuck in between, and they're a two-part answer to the conference's struggles on the national stage. Oregon made the Pac-12's last Final Four appearance in 2017.
MacLean said UCLA's self-check appears to be working. Within a few years, Cronin might just have this team in the mix for the Final Four — and that elusive national championship that hasn't happened since that night in 1995.
"Let's see what happens now," MacLean said. "They are operating like a big-time program. Let's see what happens from here. I wouldn't be surprised if that success comes because they finally figured it out."