UCLA continues the trend of First Four teams winning in the NCAA Tournament. UCLA will square off against the No.2 seed Alabama in the Sweet Sixteen. In the first two rounds, Alabama has a margin of victory of +16 led by their three point shooting. UCLA has been a surprise in this wild NCAA Tournament led by a talented offensive duo. The keys to this Sweet Sixteen showdown includes perimeter defense and rebounding.
The Crimson Tide have been dominating the glass in the NCAA Tournament. Alabama is outrebounding opponents by +18.5 rebounds in March Madness. Also, Alabama is averaging 14 offensive rebounds in the NCAA Tournament which has led to second chance scoring. Meanwhile, UCLA was even with Michigan State in the rebounding department. Further, UCLA had four less rebounds than BYU and outrebounded Abilene Christian by 11. In addition, UCLA only averages 35 rebounds per game, which is 163rd in college basketball. With Alabama’s recent rebounding, they could control the rebounding battle yet again.
Bench production will be a key for Alabama as well. Jahvon Quinerly has come off the ‘Bama bench scoring 12.7 points per game. Furthermore, Quinerly has continued his bench production with 14 points versus Maryland. Alex Reese has been huge off the bench in the past two Alabama games. To explain, Reese typically shoots 27.9% from three. However, he is shooting 5/7 from three in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Alabama will need good bench production against UCLA.
This season, UCLA is 14th in the nation averaging only 10.7 turnovers per game. UCLA’s ball security in the NCAA Tournament has been fantastic averaging 6.7 turnovers per game. Even more impressive, Abilene Christian leads the country forcing 18.8 turnovers per game and UCLA only had eight turnovers against them. Alabama touts a high-powered offense scoring 79.7 points per game. Above all, UCLA has to take care of the ball to limit Alabama’s possessions.
Furthermore, Alabama is lethal from beyond the three point arc. Ranked second, Alabama makes 10.7 threes per game. Alabama attempts 30 threes per game, which is third in the country. Obviously, UCLA cannot let Alabama go wild from three. UCLA is holding opponents to 25.9% from three in the NCAA Tournament. UCLA should feel confident going against ‘Bama when considering their recent perimeter defense.
Players to Watch
Alabama has scorers all over the floor. Herb Jones is their best player who is known for his defense. However, Jones put up 20 points against Iona. Jaden Shackelford is their lead scorer averaging 14.3 points. Against Maryland, Shackelford poured in 21 points. John Petty Jr. is another gifted Alabama guard. Petty had 20 versus Maryland. Most importantly, Quinerly off the bench is averaging 15 points in his last six games. Also, Quinerly is shooting an impressive 45.8% from three over his last six games.
Jaime Jaquez Jr., the UCLA guard, is a talented scorer who put up 27 against Michigan State. Michigan State simply could not stop Jaquez in the First Four matchup. Johnny Juzang is the most dangerous UCLA scorer. Juzang has been unstoppable in the NCAA Tournament. He is averaging 22.3 points while shooting 51% in March Madness. Juzang, the Kentucky transfer, averages 15.1 points this season. This is a huge leap at the perfect time. Juzang has 67 points over three March Madness games. Alabama will have to keep tabs on Juzang at all times.
If Juzang turns in another big game, this should be a fun, back-and-forth game. Alabama sits as the favorite by 6.5 points. UCLA may not have another firepower to keep up with ‘Bama. For this exact reason, UCLA will need outstanding perimeter defense. Through great perimeter defense and few turnovers, UCLA could have a fighting chance.
In contrast, Alabama has so many talented scorers. Also, if Alabama is hot from three they are almost unstoppable. Jones, Quinerly, Shackelford and Petty are likely too much firepower for UCLA. This is without considering Alabama has a great chance at dominating the rebound game again. Without a doubt, UCLA can keep it close until the last few minutes. The Alabama versus UCLA Sweet Sixteen showdown tips Sunday at 7:15 p.m. on TBS.
Prediction: 74-67 Alabama
All stats courtesy of ESPN and Team Rankings.