Bruins compare Florida to Pac-12 rival Arizona
LOS ANGELES — UCLA departed for their first Sweet 16 trip since 2008 Tuesday and the good news for the fourth-seeded Bruins is that their opponent in Memphis Thursday — No. 1 overall seed Florida — reminds them of another No. 1 seed they faced recently and defeated in Arizona.
The bad news: That last playoff trip in 2008 was ended by Florida in the Final Four. Two years before that, it was also the Gators that handed them their last loss of the season in the national championship game and finally, in 2011 Florida once again proved the be the undoing of UCLA, taking the Bruins out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Does history always repeat itself? The Bruins don’t think so.
"No extra incentive," said forward Travis Wear. "We’re just going to approach it as another game."
"The motivation is obviously going to be there, regardless of past history between the two programs," Head coach Steve Alford said. "Both teams have had really good years."
— UCLA Basketball (@UCLAMBB) March 26, 2014
UCLA, ranked 20th in the final week of polling, survived two upset-minded teams in the second and third rounds of the Tournament over the weekend in San Diego. Now, they will head to Memphis as the underdogs against the vaunted Gators. With the targets on another team’s back, it’s a look that suits them much the same way it did during the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, two weeks ago.
"One team has been on everybody’s radar and one team has been under it a little bit," Alford said. "So the motivation is there it’s whether we can execute the game plan."
Florida (34-2) is the only team in Division I to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the past four seasons and come in riding a program-record 28-game win streak. The only other team in the nation with a longer streak was Stephen F. Austin, the team UCLA faced in Sunday’s third round. The Bruins ended that streak at 29 and feel like they can handle another.
"We’re playing another team on an incredible win streak and I guess the good thing about that is that, that’s what we’ve been doing the last two or three weeks," Alford said. "We just do what we do, that’s what I’ve tried to tell our guys all year long. Control the locker room, control what you do, don’t worry about any of the outside talk because when that ball gets tipped, it doesn’t matter who’s the favorite or who’s the underdog."
During prep, the one team they played that looked similar was Arizona. The way the Gators use big man Patric Young was similar to the way that the Wildcats use Kaleb Tarczewski and both teams employ a hard press.
"I think they’re very similar to Arizona with the press," Alford said. "Very, very similar when you look at their skill level and their physicality and skill level and just how they like to play defensively."
— UCLA Basketball (@UCLAMBB) March 25, 2014
Should the Bruins make it past the Gators, another favorable matchup could await in either Stanford, who they have previously beaten, or Dayton.
But without looking ahead, the Bruins are trying to prove that past demons were left in the past.