Yet here are the Bruins, set to take on undefeated Gonzaga in the national semifinals Saturday night after needing overtime to beat Michigan State in the First Four, then knocking off BYU, Abilene Christian, Alabama and Michigan.
In light of UCLA’s impressive run, we looked at other teams across sports who did damage in the postseason after coming in on a down note.
Men’s college basketball
1984-85 Villanova Wildcats
From Jan. 27 to March 8, Villanova went 6-7, culminating in an 89-74 loss to St. John’s in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament. That left the Wildcats at 19-10 and with a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament. But Villanova then rattled off six straight wins for the first time since starting the season 7-0, with the final victory a 66-64 win over Georgetown that still is recognized as one of the greatest upsets in tournament history. Villanova remains one of three teams to win the national championship after entering the tournament with double-digit losses (1983 NC State, 1988 Kansas).
2010-11 UConn Huskies
UConn went 1-4 in its last five regular-season games, and 4-7 over its final 11 regular-season games after starting the season 17-2. The Huskies proceeded to win 11 straight games once their conference tournament began — winning five games in five days to win the Big East tournament and then all six of their NCAA tournament games, beating Butler to win the national championship.
2015-16 Syracuse Orange
Syracuse lost five of six games entering the NCAA tournament, including its first game in the ACC tournament — as the No. 10 seed — to drop its record to 19-13. The Orange made the NCAA tournament as a 10-seed, then beat No. 7 seed Dayton, No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee, No. 11 seed Gonzaga and No. 1 seed Virginia to become the first No. 10 seed to make the Final Four. The run would end there, however, as the Orange fell to North Carolina.
2000 New York Yankees
By mid-September of the 2000 season, the two-time defending World Series champion Yankees had built a hefty lead in the AL East, so a third straight MLB title seemed a strong possibility. But when New York closed the regular season by losing 15 of its last 18 games, the mighty Bronx Bombers suddenly looked vulnerable. The Yankees lost the first game of their division series with Oakland, but rallied to win three of the next four to eliminate the A’s, then beat the Mariners in six games and the Mets in five to secure another championship.
2006 St. Louis Cardinals
In a subpar NL Central, the Cardinals were the best of a bad lot. Even after losing nine of their last 12 games, they won the division with a pedestrian 83-78 record. But everyone starts the postseason 0-0, and St. Louis beat the Padres in four games, then the Mets in seven, with Yadier Molina providing the key blow with a two-run homer in the ninth inning of Game 7. The Cards cruised past the Tigers, a 95-win team, to become the World Series champ with the lowest regular-season winning percentage (.516).
2009 New Orleans Saints
The Saints were rolling along at 13-0, but then took their foot off the gas pedal and lost their last three games, although they still won the NFC South and earned a first-round playoff bye. New Orleans blew out the Cardinals in the divisional round, then beat the Vikings in overtime to make its first Super Bowl. After beating the Colts 31-17, the Saints became the only team in a 16-game season to lose its last three regular-season games but win the Super Bowl.
2012 Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens started the season 9-2, but stumbled down the stretch, losing four of their last five. They hung on to edge the Bengals for the AFC North title, but missed out on a first-round bye. But Baltimore regrouped in the playoffs, winning at home against the Colts, on the road against Peyton Manning and the Broncos in overtime, and against Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. The Ravens then held on for a 34-31 win over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
1999-2000 New Jersey Devils
The Devils fired coach Robbie Ftorek with eight games remaining in the regular season, then went 4-4-0 under interim coach Larry Robinson before turning it on in the playoffs. New Jersey overcame a 3-1 series deficit against the Flyers in the Eastern Conference finals before knocking off the Dallas Stars in six games (including a double-overtime thriller in Game 6) to win the franchise’s second Stanley Cup.
2001-02 Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings had just one win in their final 10 regular-season games (1-3-6) and fell behind 2-0 in their Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Vancouver Canucks. Detroit bounced back and won the next four games to take that series and pretty much coasted from there to a Stanley Cup title, winning 16 of 21 games.
While UCLA was among the last four teams in the NCAA tournament, John Daly was the “last one in” — or ninth alternate — in the 1991 PGA Championship field. Daly, a 25-year-old PGA Tour rookie who did not fit the profile of the typical touring professional, got a spot in the tournament only because others above him withdrew. The long-driving Daly quickly won over the galleries with his aggressive style and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in golf history, making his first tour win a major championship.