Two upset winners will meet when No. 11-seed UCLA (21-13; 11-7) plays No. 14-seed University of Alabama at Birmingham (20-15; 12-6) in a Round-of-32, South region NCAA tournament game on Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. UCLA secured a one-point win over Southern Methodist in the second round, while UAB stunned No. 3 seed Iowa State, winning by one point as well.
The two surprise tournament teams, oddly enough, have met in the nonconference season. The Bruins easily handled the Blazers on Nov. 28, winning 88-76 in the final of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. UCLA led by as much as 22 during the game.
But anything can happen in the NCAA tournament, and these two teams definitely proved that point in their Round-of-64 games.
UCLA advanced under a bit of controversy. The Bruins won 60-59 after being awarded a questionable goaltending call on a Bryce Alford three-point attempt with 13 seconds left against SMU. Whether the goaltending call was correct or not, UCLA moved on regardless.
Alford had a great game to go along with his final shot. He scored a game-best 27 points. The sophomore has been a consistent scorer for much of the entire season, and will likely play a major role in the offense against UAB. Alford averages 15.4 points and 4.9 assists, but has been prone to turnovers in recent games. Alford is joined in the backcourt by senior Norman Powell, who has averaged 16.5 points. Meanwhile, freshman forward Kevon Looney is among the most talented and athletic players in the nations.
The Blazers shocked a lot of experts and busted a lot of brackets by beating Iowa State. Junior guard Robert Brown was their top offensive weapon, dropping 21 points, well above his 13.3 average. Freshman forward William Lee was the late hero against Iowa State, scoring the final four points along the way to victory. He scored 14 total points and grabbed 12 rebounds. UAB head coach Jerrod Haase wasn’t too surprised the Blazers pulled off a win that stunned most everyone.
“Our thoughts have been, when we play well, we think we can compete with anybody, and those thoughts have been expressed to our team, and our team has made the choice to believe in that,” Haase told reporters after the win over Iowa State. “I think that's what you saw today.”
The Blazers may have to be on top of their game to beat UCLA. Despite bout of poor shot selection, the Bruins have a plenty of scoring punch. It’s not a good sign for UAB that they have the 199th-ranked defense in the nation, allowing 67.4 points per game. UCLA isn’t any better, however, ranking No. 211 by allowing 67.8 points per game.
Sophomore guard Isaac Hamilton went off for the Bruins against UAB back in November, scoring 21 points in the win. Senior forward C.J. Washington was the leading man for the Blazers, scoring 17 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
If the first game is any indicator, head coach Steve Alford’s UCLA squad will try to win through dominating the perimeter, while UAB will have to slow the game down in the post.
The Bruins were on the bubble before Selection Sunday and now are one win away from reaching the Sweet 16. The Blazers have likely already made program history with the shocking second-round win, but could add even more by beating the Bruins. The Blazers haven't reached the Sweet 16 since 2004.
Start Time: 12:10 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Live Stream: Watch online at March Madness Live
Odds: The Bruins are six-point favorites, according to bovada.lv.
Prediction: It’s hard to count out either team after their second-round performances. UCLA are clearly the more talent-rich team, but UAB is quite capable of another surprise win. Haase will likely slow the tempo, but that's probably not enough to hold off the Bruins.
UCLA over UAB, 82-76