UCLA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Preview


This is an exciting time in Westwood, as both the men’s and women’s basketball programs at UCLA are heading into the NCAA Tournament this week.

On the men’s side, the Bruins, at 22-10, are back in the Big Dance after a one year layoff.

Having been seeded 7th in the Southeast Regional, Ben Howland’s team will face a tough challenge in their first opponent, Michigan State, when they face them in Tampa, FL this Thursday night – this is Howland’s 6th appearance in the Tourney in his eight years as Bruin head coach, and UCLA’s 99 wins are third all-time.

Although the Spartans, coached by Tom Izzo, were only 19-14 this year and finished in a four-way tie for 4th in the Big Ten Conference, their last two seasons ended in Final Four appearances, and they have the type of tournament experience that the Bruins can’t match.

Guard Kalin Lucas leads MSU with 17.2 points per game, and forward Draymond Green complements him well with his 12.3 points and 8.6 rebounds a contest.

UCLA counters with three players averaging in double digits, who improved as players this year.

Reeves Nelson led the team with his 13.9 points and nine rebounds a game, as he was a beast on the court for the Bruins. Tyler Honeycutt nearly matched Nelson with his 12.6 points and 7.4 rebounds a contest, and Malcolm Lee averaged 13 points of his own as he was a lockdown defender.

Lazeric Jones solidified the point guard position, which was desperately needed, and Joshua Smith had a solid freshman season in averaging 10.6 points and 6.5 rebounds off the bench.

The main concern, however, is which Bruin team will show up on Thursday night; if the UCLA team that walloped Arizona during their last home game appears, then they should win and move on to the next round, where they would play the winner of the Florida – U.C. Santa Barbara match up.

But if the Bruin team that got beaten down by Oregon in the recent Pac-10 Tournament arrives in Tampa, three words will best describe this bunch: One and Done.

The only thing that the Bruin Nation can do is to see what happens against Michigan State.

The women’s version of the Bruins had an outstanding season, finishing 24-4 and earning a #3 seed in the Spokane Regional, where they will play the Montana Grizzlies this Saturday.

Nikki Caldwell’s ladies are led by guard Darxia Morris, who leads UCLA with her 12.3 points a game, and Jasmine Dixon, who averages 11.8 points and 7.2 rebounds a contest. Markel Walker and Doreena Campbell have also been key for the Bruins.

With Stanford, who beat them three times this season, in the same regional, UCLA is looking for a chance to get the ultimate revenge and play well enough to get another shot at the Cardinal, but they need to play well and win to earn that shot.

Predictions:  I think that the men will have enough pride after their Oregon humiliation and beat Michigan State to make it to the second round, where Florida will likely end their season; that will be a tremendous accomplishment, however, given how they were last year.

As for the Lady Bruins, they have an excellent chance at the Elite Eight, which I think they will advance to, but that’s as far as they’ll go, for four reasons: Stanford, Baylor, Tennessee and Connecticut, who are at a higher level and which UCLA realistically has little chance of upending for the Final Four…I could be wrong, though, and I hope Caldwell’s team proves me as such.

I suppose there’s nothing else to do but to say “Go Bruins!” and wish them all the best as they begin this Big Dance.