NCAA Sweet 16: UCLA vs Alabama preview
If the Alabama Crimson Tide has their way on Sunday, the clock will strike midnight, and the Cinderella story for the UCLA Bruins will come to a screeching halt. Bring some ear plugs, just in case. The screeching of tires is becoming a common theme for anyone unlucky enough to run into Alabama coach Nate Oats’ defense.
But then again, the Bruins have been the punch-drunk team that takes a licking and keeps on ticking. They lost their five-star recruit, Daishen Nix, before the season even started, and then senior guard Chris Smith, arguably the team’s best player, went down with a torn ACL back in January.
When it rained, it poured for UCLA coach Mick Cronin.
And yet, the Bruins still won enough games to secure a play-in spot in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. They now find themselves in a Sweet 16 matchup with Alabama and literally two wins away from a trip to the Final Four. The Bruins are broken, battered and vulnerable at this point, but they’re also very, very dangerous.
They came out swinging against Michigan State, BYU and Abilene Christian.
Alabama will come into this game as 5-point favorites after obliterating Maryland in the second round. Not even the world’s best meteorologist could have predicted the Crimson Tide raining 16 3-pointers from beyond the arc. The Alabama team that showed up to play against the Terrapins could have beaten any team in the country that night.
They scored 96 points and shot 48.5 percent from long distance. What’s not to like after a performance like that?
This game could be won or lost on UCLA’s perimeter defense. Can they consistently contest shots and run Alabama’s snipers off the 3-point line? If the answer to that question is no, the Bruins can count on getting pounded like Maryland. The odds aren’t in their favor with the team allowing an average 35.1 percent shooting from deep when on the road.
Speaking of defense, Alabama is putting opposing offenses in a phone booth. They are suffocating opponents and severely limiting the number of clean looks at the basket. It would help if Herbert Jones, a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award, avoids early foul trouble and stays on the floor. He was limited to only 17 minutes against Maryland, and the Crimson Tide still rolled to a 96-77 victory. But they’re going to need him as a defensive enforcer if they hope to make a deep run in the tournament.
UCLA isn’t shooting the ball nearly as well as Alabama, but Johnny Juzang is a particularly dangerous hot-hand playmaker that could buck the odds. The Pac-12 magic is alive and well for the Bruins, and it’s going to take a two-way effort for the favorited Crimson Tide to topple them, much less cover the spread.
But it’s also hard to bet against Alabama at this point.
Just by looking at them, you wouldn’t know it’s a program that hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2004—smack-dab in the middle of the Mark Gottfried era. The unwavering confidence, streaky shooting and shutdown defense has this Alabama team looking like a championship contender.
It’s a team hell-bent on snuffing out the Cinderella story and carving their own spot in NCAA history.