6 keys to victory for UCLA vs. North Carolina in Sweet Sixteen
Two of college basketball's most storied programs will hit the hardwood Friday when No. 4-seeded UCLA faces No. 8-seeded North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Combined, the two bluebloods have 17 national championships and 39 Final Fours. Here is how the Bruins can ensure they can get the best of the Tar Heels.
1. Get the most out of Jaime Jaquez Jr.: It's unclear if, or how much, Jaquez will play Friday due to an ankle sprain. The Bruins have depth, sure, but there's no doubting Jaquez's importance to the team as its leading rebounder and second-leading scorer and assister. Jaquez has averaged 20.5 points over UCLA's last eight games. Head coach Mick Cronin said Thursday that Jaquez hasn't been allowed to do anything but shoot in practice, though that certainly doesn't rule him out for the game. "We're going to try to have him do some stuff today," Cronin said. "Obviously have been treating him with kid gloves all week. Hopefully he can get some things done. He's going to want to try to play. The question is can he be effective? Playing is one thing. Can he play well?".
2. Compete on the glass: North Carolina has posted the third-best defensive rebounding percentage in the country this season, but has looked increasingly vulnerable in the NCAA Tournament, allowing 10 or more offensive rebounds in both of its games so far, including 16 against Baylor. Don't blame Armando Bacot, the ACC's top rebounder who corralled 16 boards against the Bears. "Our big guys...they've got their hands full, man," Cronin said. "We've been working on it all week and they've got their hands full. It's hard to simulate his presence around the rim on offense and then he goes after every rebound. He's impressive."
3. Slow down Bacot or UNC's shooters: Bacot is also North Carolina's leading scorer (16.4 PPG) and leads the ACC in field goal percentage (.588). Slowing him down is easier said than done because if you commit too much attention to him, UNC's shooters will rip you apart. The Tar Heels have netted 297 3-pointers this season, the third-most in program history. 6-foot-9 stretch forward Brady Manek has been on fire lately, scoring 20 or more points in five of his last six games. He leads the team with 83 made 3-pointers, though guards Caleb Love (81) and RJ Davis (63) aren't far behind. "Anybody can space the floor but you're not going to stretch my defense. He stretches your defense," Cronin said of Manek. "That's the problem, which now you've got Bacot rolling, you've got RJ and Caleb Love driving. The roll he's on is a big problem because he stretches your defense. Then what happens is you start giving up the three and the lay-up. You can't give up both. You've got to take something away. You start trying to take everything away, then you start giving up everything."
4. Use small ball to their advantage: While UNC's frontcourt presents challenges for UCLA's, UCLA's can exploit UNC's with the quickness of big wings/small forwards like Jaquez, Johnny Juzang, Jules Bernard, or Peyton Watson who can create opportunities off the dribble. As UNC head coach Hubert Davis said Thursday: "The battle is can we take advantage of their lack of size and get the ball into the post or attack the basket through post or penetration? Or is their perimeter play going to be a factor for us because we're bigger?"
5. Juzang recapturing his March magic: If Jaquez is limited, the Bruins need their other scorers to step up. Last year that was Johnny Juzang, who averaged 22.8 points per game during UCLA's Final Four run. Juzang hasn't been able to replicate that this time around, averaging just 11.5 PPG in this year's tournament, about four less than his season average. The good news is he appears to be heating up, pouring in 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting in the Round of 32 win over Saint Mary's.
6. Stay on Pacific time: Hopefully the Bruins don't get too acclimated to the Eastern time zone. Friday's tip-off isn't slated until 9:39 p.m. local time on CBS. That's a prime 6:39 p.m. tip-off back in Westwood. It could be a rare instance where UCLA actually has an advantage over a team playing in its own time zone.