If UCLA has a nemesis in its recent March Madness past, it’s got to be the Florida Gators.
Just three years ago, Billy Donovan’s Gators dropped Ben Howland’s Bruins in the second round by eight points. In 2006 Florida beat UCLA 73-57 to win the National Championship and the following year the re-match was in the national semi-finals with the defending champion Gators beating the defending runners-up Bruins by ten.
Could the fourth time be the charm for UCLA?
We’ll know later tonight when the South Region’s fourth seeded UCLA Bruins (28-8) take on the overall tournament and region’s top-seed Florida Gators (34-2) in a Sweet 16 match-up in Memphis.
Billy Donovan’s still on the Gator’s bench leading them into tonight’s showdown riding a 28-game winning streak.
For UCLA, the Bruins are led by first-year head coach Steve Alford. Taking over for Ben Howland who was fired after last season’s opening round loss to Minnesota, Alford’s led the Bruins to five straight post-season wins taking the PAC-12 Tournament Championship and the opening two games of the NCAA’s in impressive fashion.
He doesn’t really pay much attention to the recent history between the two schools because it’s just that – history. But he can’t get away from it and leading up to tonight’s game he addressed the history head on.
"We know we've got a lot of challenges with Florida, so everybody might as well throw in the history too," Alford said during Wednesday’s press conference in Memphis. "I don't know if the history's going to play much into the game, but it's just one more challenge that we try to get over."
The challenge for the Bruins will be to do what they do which is score a lot of points (82 ppg average) - against one of the top-rated defensive teams in the country. The Gators allow a paltry 57 points per game.
"We don't want to get into a matchup where it's our good offense versus their very good defense," said UCLA sophomore guard Kyle Anderson. "We want to present ourselves on the defensive end as well, and that's what's going to win this game, which team is better on defensively."
The Bruins have a two-to-one ratio in assists to turnovers – which is really good. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said of the Bruins, “A two-to-one ratio in assists to turnovers is excellent for a single player let alone an entire team like the Bruins.”
If UCLA can set its fast-paced tempo against the Gators, the Bruins can pull the upset.
That’s what a trio of former Bruins who currently play for the Los Angeles Clippers believe.
To hear from center Ryan Hollins and guard Darren Collison – who were part of those Final Four teams that lost to Florida – and forward Matt Barnes – who played in Westwood from 1998 to 2002 – click on the video.
Tonight’s UCLA-Florida game is set to tip-off from Memphis at 7:05 PDT. The winner takes on the Dayton-Stanford winner in Saturday’s Elite Eight South Regional Title Game for a trip to the Final Four.