GAINESVILLE, Fla. — One half of the NCAA Tournament’s South Region bracket is still in order heading into the event’s second week.
The other half?
Not so much.
The top-ranked and top-seeded Florida Gators (34-2) will face fourth-seeded UCLA (28-8) in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament’s South Region Thursday night at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn. The Bruins defeated 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin 77-60 Sunday night, meaning both UF and UCLA survived a bloody opening weekend of upsets, none of which matched the carnage on the other side of South bracket.
The winner of the UF-UCLA showdown will advance to Saturday’s regional final and face either 10th-seeded Stanford (23-12), which shocked No. 2 seed Kansas Sunday, or 11th-seeded Dayton (25-10), which jacked No. 3 seed Syracuse Saturday night.
The region survivor will advance to the Final Four at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, set for April 5-7.
Florida and UCLA are hardly strangers when it comes to the postseason. The upcoming game — tipoff time to be announced either late Sunday or early Monday — will be their fourth NCAA meeting in the last nine tournaments, with UF winning each of the previous three.
The Gators defeated the Bruins 73-57 in the 2006 national championship game to claim the program’s first crown at Indianapolis. UF eliminated UCLA again the following year in the Final Four, winning 76-66 in the NCAA semifinals at Atlanta. The last meeting came in the 2011 round of 32 in Tampa, where UF won 73-65 to move into the Sweet 16.
The Bruins, who finished second to Arizona in the Pac-12 standings but won their conference tournament, are led by sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson, a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-8. Anderson averages 14.7 points, shoots 48 percent from the floor and 49 percent from 3-point range, grabs 8.8 rebounds and dishes 6.6 assists per game. He’s projected to be a top-10 NBA lottery pick in June.
They’re headed by Coach Steve Alford, in his first season since coming from New Mexico.
As good as Anderson is, the team’s leading scorer is his backcourt mate. Jordan Adams is scoring 17.4 points per game, making 48 percent from the floor and 84 percent from the free-throw line.
UCLA averages 81.8 points per game (which ranks 12th nationally), thanks to one of the best passing teams in the country. The Bruins 17.2 assists per game rates fifth and leads to 49-percent shooting as a team, which is 10th best.
As far as strength of schedule and advanced metrics go, the Bruins check in at No. 22 in RPI with a 1-2 record against the Top 25, an 8-5 mark against the Top 50 and 11-6 the Top 100.
UCLA’s best win of the season was a 75-71 upset of Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament title game. They also defeated Stanford twice, but lost at Missouri and had really bad losses at Oregon State (RPI 103) and Washington State (218th).