For the fourth time in NCAA Tournament history, the Florida Gators and the UCLA Bruins will be matched up in the postseason, this time in the Sweet 16. While obviously this history has no bearing on Thursday’s match-up, it is still interesting to note that Florida is 3-0 against UCLA in the previous meetings with an average margin of victory of nearly 12 points. Their history may play no part in choosing favorites, but Florida came into the tournament as the number one team in the nation and has done nothing to make anyone doubt their ranking. As many other top seeds have fallen, the Gators have quietly dominated their first two opponents. UCLA is a very different beast than Albany or Pittsburgh, though, and Florida is putting their title hopes and their 28 game winning streak on the line.
Key Match-up: Patric Young vs. The Wear Brothers
Listed at 6’9″ and a conservative 240 pounds, Patric Young is at least ten pounds heavier than the closest Bruins. Young not only is one of the most physically imposing front court players in the NCAA, but he has an NBA build, and his wingspan is even greater than his height at 7’1″ of reach. He is fast, explosive, runs the floor, and can push opponents around in the post. The Wear Twins, Travis and David, each measure up at around 6’10” and 230 pounds. It might take both of them together to hold Young in place. Young is not necessarily an aggressive or accomplished scorer, but he is a very capable one and if he has a very favorable match-up Florida head coach Bill Donovan will make sure he does not get passive and gets his shots around the rim.
Florida Notes: The Gators only have two losses the entire season, and none since early December. Their two defeats were both on the road against tournament teams Connecticut and Wisconsin, and only by a combined seven points. Florida was every bit deserving of the number one overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, as they have shown by steamrolling through the first two rounds. They do everything well, but they really leave their mark on the defensive end. They play aggressive and force turnovers, and their roster has the size and quickness to match-up with any team in the country.
UCLA Notes: If UCLA is to have any hope of an upset victory they have to dominate on the fast break. If the game stays in the halfcourt, either because Florida is hitting their shots or because UCLA plays too passively, then they will be torn apart by the Gators defense. They need to play enough defense to force Florida into tough, and preferably long, shots. They need to rebound and push the ball up-court before Florida gets settled into their defense. UCLA’s only other statistical advantage is on the free throw line. If they can play a close game, they could very well win it on the line, where they shoot a whopping 9.3 percent better than the Gators.
Prediction: There are quite a few scenarios that can be drummed up in which UCLA wins, but they all require a lot of things to go right. They must not turn the ball over, have to play defense to allow themselves to get on the break, and they have to shoot a high percentage. Meanwhile, for Florida, all they have to do is play how they play every single game. Florida defeats UCLA in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 by a score of 65-57.
Commentary by Brian Moore