UCLA meets Tulsa Friday in NCAA tournament second round action. Both teams enter the game red hot and brimming with confidence. The Bruins are the No. 4 seed and the Hurricanes are the No. 13 seed of the South region in San Diego, CA. At first glance it would be easy or fun to look at this game as a contrast of styles. West Coast vs Midwest, LA vs Tulsa or Hollywood and the Hoedown. In reality these two teams have a lot more in common than it would appear.
UCLA, led by Steve Alford in his first season at the helm has won three in a row over tournament teams including the West’s No. 1 seed Arizona and five of their last six. The Bruins play a wide open offense, score a lot of points and to say they are peaking at at the right time is an understatement.
Tulsa is hotter though. The Golden Hurricanes have now won 12 in a row including four in the Conference USA tournament and are led by second year coach Danny Manning. This is Tulsa’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2003 and Manning has given the program the look of one that will be returning.
Usually when a team comes in to the tournament after after winning 12 in a row plus their conference and conference tournament they have plenty of attention to go with that success. They are either a huge favorite or a sleeper pick by media types everywhere. Tulsa fits that profile exactly except for the media attention. No one is picking the Golden Hurricane in this matchup. That is because UCLA is that good right now. Most experts have them slotted in the Sweet Sixteen without much thought to what team is out there waiting for them. It is hard to say they are wrong at the moment. The Bruins have a deep and athletic roster with a couple of all-american type players that Tulsa just has not seen this year.
If the Golden Hurricanes do have a legitimate blemish on their resume it would be their strength of schedule. They only played four top 50 teams in the RPI and lost to three of them and put bluntly they have not seen the likes of Kyle Anderson or Jordan Adams in Conference USA this season. Anderson is a lock to be an NBA lottery pick that displays a maturity and basketball acumen far greater than his age. He passes, scores and rebounds and is UCLA’s main man. He averaged 14.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game, gaudy numbers at any level. Adams is the Bruins leading scorer and is a dual threat inside and out. Alford will be lucky to have the talented sophomores back with him next season.
The Bruins were never short on talent but it took most of the season under Alford to come together. So a team that was a lock for the NCAA Tournament a month ago but with little shot of making any sort of mark is now a team on everyone’s radar. They can play with anyone in the country and they know it. That is a dangerous combination for any opponent. Only one thing keeps UCLA from being mentioned as a title contender. Defense. The Bruins plat at a fast tempo and score a lot of points but their commitment to defense is likely the thing that keeps them from a final four. UCLA plays enough defense to get by but they will not lock anybody down and that will likely cost them sooner or later.
This is where Tulsa’s opportunity lies. Because the Golden Hurricanes do play tough physical defense and are not afraid to put a body on an opponent. The price for that is Manning’s team commits a lot of fouls but the trade-off is paying off. If a team plays Tulsa they know they are going to get hit and they will have to earn a victory. It will not be handed to them. Couple that with sophomore guard James Woodard and Tulsa usually has a chance. Woodard has compiled an impressive stat line as well, leading Tulsa in scoring and rebounding at 15.7 ppg and 5.8 rpg. He will have to have a big game if Tulsa is going to pull this upset.
UCLA will take care of that though. There’s enough defense on Alford’s squad to lock down one player and unfortunately for Manning there is not enough of a threat beyond Woodard to beat the Bruins. UCLA pulls away in the second half, winning easily 81-71, advancing to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Commentary by Mick Varner