NCAA TOURNAMENT – SOUTH REGIONAL SEMI-FINALS:
#4 UCLA Bruins (28-8) vs #1 Florida Gators (34-2)
DAY/DATE/TIME: Thursday, March 27, 2014, 6:45 p.m. PT
PLACE: Fed Ex Forum, Memphis, TN
TV: CBS (Channel 2 in the Los Angeles area)
Jordan Adams – 17.4 points per game
Kyle Anderson – 14.7 points per game, 8.7 rebounds per game
Norman Powell – 11.5 points per game
Casey Prather – 14.2 points per game
Scottie Wilbekin – 13 points per game
Michael Frazier II – 12.9 points per game
Dorian Finney-Smith – 6.8 rebounds per game
Besides the Final Four, this is the game that Bruin Nation was hoping for and shooting for when this tournament began.
And not just because these Gators from Gainesville, FL, coached by Billy Donovan, are top-seeded, top-ranked, have won 28 straight games, and are favored by many to be the ones accepting the crystal basketball and cutting down the nets on April 7th, either.
Although none of the players were involved at the time, as they were in middle school and high school, this is a golden opportunity for UCLA to repay Florida for all the times they were ousted by them in this Big Dance, as the Bruins were…
* Beaten by the Gators in the national championship game in 2006
* Beaten by the Gators in the national semifinals in 2007, and…
* Beaten by the Gators in the second round in 2011
Fortunately for Steve Alford‘s team, they are playing their best basketball right now, the first-year UCLA coach doing a terrific job in rallying his troops after their disastrous loss to lowly Washington State in their last regular season game.
He burned the tapes of that failure in Pullman, WA, exhorted his team to relax, focus, play hard and (most importantly) have fun, and guess what?
Those Bruins have not lost a contest since as they took the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, beating 4th-ranked Arizona in the title game, and have so far disposed of Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin in this NCAA tourney to become one of the 16 teams left.
Everyone has talked at length about the exploits of Adams and Anderson, and rightfully so, but in my view it has been Powell, a 6’4″ junior guard from San Diego, that has been the real glue and perhaps the biggest factor for UCLA’s postseason success.
Powell has averaged 15 points per game in the NCAA tournament, and it has seemed that every time the Bruins needed a steal or a key basket, he has been there.
His two steals against Stephen F. Austin and three against Tulsa is evidence of the glue he has become.
As for their upcoming showdown with Florida, UCLA is eagerly anticipating it, but fully recognize the challenge ahead.
“…our work isn’t done,” Anderson said after the win over Stephen F. Austin. “They don’t hang Sweet 16s up in Pauley.”
I know, I know, you’re probably asking this right about now:
“All right Derek, how do you see this game unfolding? Do you think the Bruins have a chance?”
My answer to the second question: YES.
The way they have been playing of late, UCLA has a very decent chance of knocking off the Gators. As far as how the game will unfold, I believe they will come out hard and strong due to them being pumped up at the opportunity to play a top-notch SEC team like Florida.
And while I won’t flat-out pick a winner, I will say that the game will be a fairly close one, decided by less than ten points if not coming down to the wire.
I’ll also state that more pressure will be on the Gators rather than the Bruins because of them being the #1 seed and the favorite; most folks had UCLA, at best, where they are right now in the Sweet 16, myself included.
So as far as the general public is concerned, the Bruins are playing with house money.
Not to mention that although nothing should be assumed, with the other South Regional semifinal involving Dayton, an ultimate Cinderella that beat big names Ohio State and Syracuse, and Stanford, a very familiar Pac-12 foe that upended #2 seed Kansas…
The winner of this UCLA – Florida game will have an excellent chance to reach the Final Four and will be heavily favored to do so.
And if the Bruins take the attitude of “Just relax, focus, and go play”, as was said they’ll have a more-than-decent chance.
Alford has stated that he was looking forward to this, and I – and the rest of Bruin Nation – feel the same way.
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