UCLA-Florida preview: 3 things to watch
With all the talk of culture change at UCLA and Florida’s postseason dominance over the Bruins now behind, the buildup surrounding Thursday’s Sweet 16 game between the South Region’s Nos. 1 and 4 seeds are at an all-time high.
"Well, we know we’ve got a lot of challenges with Florida, so everybody might as well throw in the history too," UCLA head coach Steve Alford said. "I don’t know if the history’s going to play much into the game, but it’s just one more challenge that we try to get over."
The chatter off the court is done and all that’s left is to play. Here are three things to watch for as No. 4 UCLA faces No. 1 Florida in the Sweet 16.
Steve Alford said previously that the Gators employ a press defense similar to that of Arizona’s. It’s been slightly more effective than Arizona’s, but not by much — Arizona is the fifth-best scoring defense in Division I while the Gators boast the third-best, allowing an average of 57.5 points per game.
UCLA, on the other hand, likes to light up the scoreboard. The Bruins have averaged 81.5 points per game — ninth in the nation — creating somewhat of a mismatched matchup.
"We don’t want to get into a matchup where it’s our good offense versus their very good defense," said UCLA guard Kyle Anderson. "We want to present ourselves on the defensive end as well, and that’s what’s going to win this game, which team is better on defensively."
"A lot’s been made out of Florida’s defense, and a lot’s been made of our offense," Alford said. "I think our defense is probably better than advertised, and I know Florida’s offense is probably better than advertised."
UCLA has taken care the ball exceptionally well in the postseason. They’re averaging just seven turnovers a game since facing Arizona in the final game of the Pac-12 Championship and they turned the ball over just three times against Stephen F. Austin last weekend.
It starts with Anderson, a matchup nightmare himself as a 6-foot-9 point guard. Anderson distributes efficiently and with Bryce Alford coming off the bench and doing much of the same.
"We’ve had one of the best assist-turnover ratios all season long in the country. It started with Kyle, but it just kind of went through our team," Alford said. "And we’ve been a very good passing team. If we’re going to have a chance with the challenge that’s ahead of us tomorrow night, we’re going to have to continue the ability to move the basketball well."
Anderson and his 7-foot-3 wingspan will counter Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC player of the year. He’s unlike any guard Wilbekin has faced this season.
"He’s definitely a unique cover," Wilbekin said. "We’re just going to try to keep him out of the lane, not let him get a step because he obviously has great length. So if he gets a step on you, he can finish over and around you."
UCLA is the traditional powerhouse but while the Bruins became stagnant over the last few years, it was Florida and SEC Coach of the Year Billy Donovan that have garnered the reputation as the new powerhouse.
UCLA is determined to get back on the upswing and a win in the Sweet 16 over a program that has been there in each of the last four seasons would confirm that the Bruins are once again on that path.
"He put his stamp on (the program) in just about every way, shape, or form," Alford said. "It’s been fun to see because he’s one of the good guys in the business, and I’ve always wished him the best.
"I’ll always do that — except at 8:45 tomorrow."