North Carolina (8-2) vs. UCLA (8-3)
Brooklyn, N.Y. – Barclays Center
Saturday, 1 p.m.
CBS (Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery, Allie LaForce)
"Just a very explosive team. They have good size, good length, good guard play, very good inside play. Just one of those top-10 teams where there is not a lot of weaknesses to them. We know it is going to be a terrific challenge and we are going to have to play really good basketball, probably our best 40 minutes of the year to have a chance in the last five minutes of the game." – UCLA head coach Steve Alford on UNC
"We're playing way better defensively and we're trying to get better and better every day. We're talking, we're in the right place. We've done that a lot more often, and the coaches have done a great job helping us with it." – UCLA forward Tony Parker
Season to Date: UCLA enters Saturday’s matchup with an 8-3 record. The Bruins have played the second-hardest schedule in the nation to date, according to kenpom.com, and have already collected a pair of victories against Top-20 teams. UCLA handed then-No. 1 Kentucky its first loss of the season on Dec. 3 and gained a quality road victory against then-No. 20 Gonzaga just nine days later. UNC is the fourth ranked opponent the Bruins will face this season. UCLA’s three losses came against King Rice’s Monmouth squad, No. 2 Kansas and Wake Forest.
Short Rotation: Head coach Steve Alford has relied heavily on his starting five this season. While Alford utilizes an eight-man rotation, only one player off the bench averages more than 14 minutes per game (sophomore guard Jonah Bolden averages 20.5 minutes). The lack of depth is only further emphasized by the fact that sophomore center Thomas Welsh (illness) and freshman guard Prince Ali (bone bruise in knee) both missed Tuesday night’s contest against Louisiana-Lafayette. Alford said on Thursday that Welsh will play on Saturday, while Ali remains day-to-day.
Scorching Starters: UCLA has succeeded in spite of a limited rotation thanks to a starting five that has performed at a high level. Each Bruins starter averages double figures in scoring, led by junior Bryce Alford (16.9 PPG). UCLA’s starters have hit 49 percent of their attempts from the field this season, and rank 21st in adjusted offensive efficiency (112.8), according to kenpom.com. Adding to their scoring production is that each starter is averaging at least 3.4 rebounds per game.
Tempo Battle: While UNC enjoys running the floor, UCLA doesn’t mind slowing down and setting up the half court. The Bruins rank 143rd in possessions per 40 minutes, averaging 70.3 per game.
Big Down Low: Parker, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound forward, has posted six double-doubles in UCLA’s first 11 games. Welsh, who sat out Tuesday with a stomach bug, stands 7-foot and weighs 245 pounds. That size in the post will pose a challenge for a Tar Heel team missing starting center Kennedy Meeks. Parker and Welsh are combining for 27.4 points and 17.4 rebounds per game.
Three-Point Threats: UNC has been susceptible to giving up the three against quality opponents this season, and the two men the Tar Heels will have to watch in Brooklyn is Alford and Aaron Holiday, brother of former UCLA guard and Roy Williams recruit Jrue Holiday. Alford is shooting 37.5 percent from beyond the arc, while Holiday leads the team with 43 percent shooting from deep.
Last Meeting: The Tar Heels defeated the Bruins, 78-56, in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas on Nov. 27, 2014. UNC closed the first half on an 18-4 run to break open a tie game, and built a 30-point second-half lead with a 25-4 spurt to secure the victory. Marcus Paige led all scorers with 21 points and Justin Jackson added 12 points and five rebounds.
Series History: UNC leads the all-time series, 7-3. The Tar Heels have won six of the last seven meetings.
20 Bryce Alford (6-3, 180, Jr.) – 16.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg
23 Tony Parker (6-9, 260, Sr.) - 14.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg
10 Isaac Hamilton (6-5, 185, Jr.) - 14.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg
40 Thomas Welsh (7-0, 245, So.) - 12.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg
03 Aaron Holiday (6-1, 185, Fr.) - 10.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg
43 Jonah Bolden (6-10, 215, So.) - 5.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg
05 Prince Ali (6-3, 190, Fr.) – 5.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg
00 Alex Olesinski (6-10, 200, Fr.) – 2.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg