The 4th seeded (28-8) UCLA Bruins, one of 16 teams still dancing, are at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN to face the No.1 seeded (34-2) Florida Gators. UCLA Head Coach Steve Alford was able to snap his one and done tournament streak, restored hope in the basketball program and has the Bruins playing solid basketball. The Bruins were able to cruise past Tulsa & Stephen F. Austin with back-to-back 17-point wins.
UCLA is on a five-game win streak. Coach Alford has the Bruins playing a fun open-court style of play vastly different from the methodical, plodding half-court style of his predecessor that has rejuvenated the Bruin faithful and has several asking the question where was this style of play when athletes like Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, Jordan Farmar, Aaron Afflalo, Trevor Ariza, Jrue Holiday, Kevin Love, Ryan Hollins, Dijon Thompson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Shabazz Muhammad donned the true blue and gold.
The fact of the matter is that college basketball is about coaches and their systems the NBA is about players and talent. The UCLA Bruins are one of 16 programs to have advanced to the Sweet 16 four or more times in the last nine seasons. UCLA led, on the court; by Kyle Anderson a 6' 9" match up nightmare for an opponent who has become the first NCAA D-1 player since at least 1996-1997 to log over 500 points, 300 rebounds and 200 assists in one season.
Norman Powell has shined in Coach Alford's offense averaging 17 points and shooting 56.4 percent from the field in his last four games. A huge turnaround for a guy who was averaging 5.8 points and shooting 40.8 percent from the field in his first two seasons in Westwood. UCLA is 19-3 when Powell scores in double digits. UCLA is one of three schools this year (including Michigan State and Louisville) to win 10 football games, a bowl game and advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.
UCLA are the underdogs facing the tough task of matching up with the top-seeded Florida Gators. In order for UCLA to pull off the upset, the Bruins have to set the pace and get out in transition and play through the post. The Bruins have to attack the Gators inside due to their undersized frontcourt and lack of depth. UCLA is averaging 33 points in the paint. The Bruins have to shoot well and force the Gators limited shooters to come up huge.
The Bruins scored 20 points in transition against Stephen F. Austin's 100th ranked defense. The real question is "Can Kyle Anderson stay hot vs. the Gators team defense?" At 6' 9" Anderson can handle the ball as well as 6' 2" guard, can see over defenses better than most. Anderson is an excellent passer with an impressive 34.9-percent assist rate and always looks one step ahead of everyone on the court. Anderson is averaging 15 points, 9 rebounds and 7-assists per game.
Anderson can post up smaller defender and is also shooting 48-percent from behind the arc. The Gators have to find a way to speed up Anderson's game, force him into some bad decisions. The Bruins have to get out in transition and knock down timely three-point shots.
Florida Head Coach Billy Donovan, owner of two National titles, has the Gators back in the mix and a favorite to win his third in 2014. The seniors on the University of Florida basketball program have made four straight Sweet 16 appearances, the longest active streak. The last time, Donovan's roster littered with future NBA Draft picks.
Despite being the number one team in the nation and top seeded team in the tournament the two questions facing the Gators were "Will the Florida Gators be challenged?" "Will the Gators be tested?" Reaching their fourth straight Sweet 16 should offer an emphatic yes. However, UCLA has the size and talent to challenge as well as upset the Gators.
The Gators have been solid on both ends of the court. The Bruins scored an average of 82 points a game in the tournament literally feasting on porous defenses. The Gators second-ranked defense has held every team it has played including Memphis, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Kansas, Kentucky (three times) and Tennessee (three times) to an average of 16 points below their average points per game. The Gators have allowed an average of 50 points per game in the tournament.
MEN'S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP - SOUTH REGION – Sweet 16
Bruins: Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, Norman Powell, Travis Wear, David Wear
Gators: Michael Frazier II, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Will Yequete, Patric Young
Tip-Off: 6:45 PM PST
Prediction: Florida – 71 UCLA 66
Jeff Little is the host of "The Locker Room" a daily sports talk radio show based out of Los Angeles 6-8 pm PST www.sportsjourney.com Follow on twitter @JeffLittle32, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+