The UCLA Bruins were considered by many to be little more than a legacy entrant into the NCAA Tournament field, and they weren't even in the main draw, having been relegated to a “play-in” game just to be among the 64-team roster.
But now they are seen as a force to be reckoned with, as they've won three games over some pretty good opposition.
UCLA can punch a ticket to the Elite Eight if they can beat the Alabama Crimson Tide, which will be the highest-ranked squad they've faced thus far. The game begins at 7:25 PM ET on Sunday night at the Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
TBS televises the proceedings. And remember that if it's before the game, you can play dozens and dozens of props at BetOnline. Plus, once the game begins, you have the chance to continue participating in the action as you exercise the “Live Betting” option.
NCAA Tournament – Sweet Sixteen @ Indianapolis
UCLA BRUINS vs. ALABAMA CRIMSON Tide, 7:15 PM ET Sunday (TBS)
March Madness Betting Odds: Alabama -6.5 (-115) / Total 145.5
Mick Cronin was an undersized point guard when he was playing ball, but he's striving to be a giant in the coaching profession. Cronin spent 13 years building a reputation at Cincinnati, and now he is 39-21 at UCLA, which has been through quite a few coaching changes.
The Bruins have scored victories over Michigan State, BYU and Abilene Christian to get to this point. And they've been very impressive in the process.
Against Abilene Christian it was an all-around effort, running an efficient offense while at the same time snuffing out anything ACU had to offer. The result was a 67-47 win in which the Bruins surrendered just 30% shooting from the field. They also committed just eight turnovers, and that is important because Abilene Christian had forced more TO's than any other team in the country.
Everybody is chipping in to the UCLA effort. Johnny Juzang transferred from Kentucky, where he kind of got lost in John Calipari's sea of one-and-done projects. And now he's scored 67 points in the three NCAA Tournament games. Cody Riley had twelve points and twelve rebounds against Abilene Christian. Jaime Jaquez exploded for 27 points in the “First Four” play-in game against Michigan State. He has hit 40% from three-point range on the season, as has Jules Bernard.
And it all comes together for UCLA because of somebody very dependable at the controls. Tygar Campbell may not be much of an outside shooter, but he is about as sure-handed as it comes, and over these last six games he's had a ratio of 30 assists to just ten turnovers. It was clear that Abilene Christian was not going to be able to implement its pressure defense as long as he was running the attack.
It is obvious that Alabama is one of the better defensive teams in the nation. They have been able to limit what opponents can do from the three-point line, allowing just 28.9% shooting. And if they continue to be that successful, it could mitigate what the Bruins have been living off on this mini-streak of theirs.
And Nate Oats' team was able to shred the position-less Maryland defense the other day, getting 21 from Jalen Shackleford and 20 from John Petty, sinking 16 triples of their own in a 96-77 victory.
But we wonder if they are kind of one-dimensional. Alabama relies greatly on the triple (almost 47% of all shots), and if UCLA can get out their to the perimeter, as it has against its previous opponents in this tourney (who have shot a combined 24% from the arc), we're not sure ‘Bama gets enough second chances to – pardon the pun – turn the tide here.
There's quite a bit of chemistry at work right now for the Bruins – enough to take this one right down to the wire, at the very least.
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