NCAA Tourney: Stephen F. Austin Preview

UCLA takes on Stephen F. Austin on Sunday evening in San Diego for the opportunity to advance to the Sweet-16 and another NCAA Tournament game against Florida...

The UCLA men's basketball team advanced to the third round (round of 32) of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night with a solid 17-point win over an athletic Tulsa squad.Awaiting the Bruins on Sunday will be the 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks who were upset winners over 5th-seeded VCU on Friday. The 4th-seeded Bruins continued their focused play and will hope to bring the same intensity and focus to Friday's tilt (4:10 PM PDT, TBS).

Unlike the Bruins, who had a relatively easy first game, SFA should have seen its Tournament come to an end on Friday. The Jacks were trailing VCU by 4 points with under 10 seconds left in the game when they hit a fall-away three-pointer while getting fouled. The ensuing made free throw on the four-point play sent the game into overtime where SFA hit a few more low-percentage shots that helped to upset the Rams. In spite of the "miraculous" shots hit by the Jacks, they were a missed wide-open three at the end of the game from losing.

Although Tulsa made a few 2nd-half runs against the Bruins, UCLA only trailed once, 3-2, at the beginning of the game, and the Hurricane never posed a particularly significant threat. UCLA showed sustained effort throughout on both ends of the floor and eventually the superior talent of the Bruins proved too much for the Golden Hurricane.

The Bruins will have a significant talent advantage again on Sunday. However, unlike the Tulsa game, SFA will not have a better set of athletes than the Bruins. What the Jacks do have is a great deal of experience. Unlike Tulsa, which started 4 sophomores, SFA Coach Brad Underwood will have 3 seniors and two juniors in the top six players in his rotation. In fact, unless someone suffers an injury in practice on Saturday, the 32-2 Lumberjacks will have the same starting five for the 35th time this season. Although SFA won't have any more NCAA Tournament experience than the Bruins, the Jacks have as much experience in playing as a unit as any team in the nation. That experience is the single biggest obstacle that UCLA must overcome in order to win the game.

Underwood's team is incredibly undersized, with the five Jack starters going 6'6", 6'5", 6'4", 6'3" and 5'9". The top SFA bench player is 6'3". UCLA will have a decided size advantage at every position and even off the bench. The only players that are taller than 6'6" on the roster are junior Tanner Clayton (6'9" 210 lbs.) and freshman Patrick Costello (6'8" 205 lbs.). Clayton sees about 14 minutes per game while Costello barely plays. Neither player provides much offense, though Clayton does average over 3 RPG in his limited minutes, and leads the team with 46 blocks.

Underwood divvies out the bulk of his minutes to his top six players knowing that they know how to play together and won't make many mistakes. Further, they know how to play very effective team defense and rebound better than their size would indicate. UCLA has to make a concerted effort to win the battle of the boards. This is a team that the Bruins should be able to dominate on the glass.

The Jacks don't have a star player but they do have four very effective ones. Junior Jacob Parker (6'6" 210 lbs.) is the team's leading scorer at 14.4 PPG and its leading rebounder at 7 RPG. He is effective on the low block with his back to the basket and is a very good three-point shooter, hitting almost 50% of his shots from behind the arc. Parker had 22 points against VCU.

Senior Desmond Hayman (6'3" 190 lbs.) also averages 14.4 PPG. He is the player who converted the four-point play that led the Jacks into overtime on Friday. He is the one good athlete on the team, though oddly, he is, marginally, one of the worst three-point shooters on the squad at 36%. He is also the weak link on the free throw line, although he did hit some big ones against VCU.

Sophomore Thomas Walkup (6'4" 195 lbs.) is the size of a guard, but in SFA's line-up he is the power forward. He came up huge on the glass against VCU, corralling 10 boards. He is also a capable shooter, hitting a team-best 57% from the field and a solid 38% from behind the arc.

Sophomore Trey Pinkney (5'9" 160 lbs.) is the point guard and does a good job of getting the ball to his teammates for good shots. Pinkney is really good at not forcing things, having a solid 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. If the Bruins can disrupt Pinkney, as VCU did often in the second half on Friday, then SFA's offense tends to become stagnant and one-dimensional. He doesn't score much and is a horrible shooter (13% from behind the arc), but he also leads the team in steals. If UCLA's Norman Powell is matched on him and can do the kind of job he did on Tulsa's James Woodard then UCLA stands a good chance of winning this game by a wide margin.

Seniors Nikola Gajic (6'5" 200 lbs.) and Deshaunt Walker (6' 170 lbs.) are the designated shooters on the team. Gajic starts and hits 38% of his shots from deep. Walker, who plays starters' minutes, hits on 37% of his three-pointers and leads the teams in overall attempts and makes.

SFA is one of those teams that is greater than the sum of its parts. Individually, UCLA has more talented players at every position. However, the beauty and success of SFA is its ability to function as a unit. UCLA's effort level is going to be key on the defensive end as the Bruins need to close out on all the Jack shooters and the Bruins need to be wary of the active rebounding of the Lumberjacks.

Underwood's team likes to play at a much slower pace than the Bruins. The Jacks want the score to be in the 50s, and they accomplish this by diligently working the clock for good shots. UCLA will have to work on defense for the majority of the 35-second shot clock on each SFA offensive possession. The Jacks are also fundamentally sound. They do little things like rubbing off the shoulders of their screeners, that lead to open drives and shots. Again, UCLA will have to work intensely and remain focused in order to force SFA into bad shots.

SFA is able to accomplish its slowdown strategy because of its defense. The Jacks are interesting in that they run a bit of a press that is designed to make the opposition use up some of the shot clock, but then they do a really good job of clogging the lanes with their sagging man-to-man defense and when they are in a zone. Unlike VCU, which was a bit sloppy with the ball, UCLA will be able to pass over the SFA press. It will be interesting to see if UCLA can get some easy buckets against the Jack press. Keep in mind, though, that SFA turns over the opposition at an extremely high rate. The Jacks force their opponents into almost 17 turnovers per game. UCLA has been very good about taking care of the ball this season and the Bruins need to continue that trend on Sunday.

UCLA has some decided advantages in this game. First of all, the size of the Bruins should be able to create several mismatches. Specifically, UCLA should be able to post-up Jordan Adams and Norman Powell. If Tony Parker is focused then he should be able to have his way against the Lumberjack interior defense. The Wear brothers should be able to have unimpeded shots throughout the game. It will be a matter of making those shots.

However, the biggest mismatch, despite his poor (by his standards) game against Tulsa, will be Kyle Anderson. The Jacks have seen nothing like Anderson this season and they don't have a defender like Tulsa's Shaquille Harrison to help contain him. The officiating will be interesting. Anderson was called for two traveling calls in quick succession on Friday. The first was questionable at best and wrong at worst, but the second was truly poor officiating, especially since the baseline official had called an "and-one" on Anderson's made shot. That second call seemed to take the wind out of Anderson's sails (and it should be noted that both traveling calls were made by the same official) and he was off his game the rest of the night. It's probably a safe assumption that he won't be as off again on Sunday.

Like most Cinderella teams that win their first game in the Big Dance, many talking heads are mentioning the Jacks as a great story. But again, the reality is they should have lost their first game. One of the issues lost about the SFA/VCU game was what a favorable match-up it was for the Jacks. VCU is a terrible half court offensive team and they aren't a great rebounding team. Although the Rams turned over the Jacks an uncommon 17 times, if SFA was able to force VCU to run its half court offense, the Jacks did very well without expending much effort. UCLA's half-court offense is much, much better than VCU's. VCU's "Havoc" defense is also fairly undisciplined and leads to unnecessary fouls, such as the one that led to the game-tying four-point play. Generally, UCLA is much more disciplined than VCU. Further, although UCLA has a tendency to not get back on fast breaks well, because UCLA is more effective offensively, the Bruins won't face the kinds of defensive breakdowns that VCU suffered on Friday.

Really, the game's outcome is almost completely dependent on UCLA's focus. UCLA could lose this game if the Bruins don't bring the focus and intensity they've showed the past two weeks. The talent gap is large enough that UCLA could conceivably win this game even without an exceptional effort, but if the Bad Effort Bruins show up again, the Jacks could pull off the victory.

UCLA 71
Stephen F. Austin 58


UCLA'S OFFICIAL NOTES:

NO. 4-SEED UCLA TO FACE NO. 13-SEED STEPHEN F. AUSTIN ON SUNDAY

Bruins (27-8) are seeking their first entry to the tournament's Sweet 16 since March 2008

Website Link for UCLA's Tournament Notes: http://ucla.in/1gcZVSV

LOS ANGELES – No. 4-seed UCLA (27-8) will play No. 12-seed Stephen F. Austin (32-2) in a third-round meeting of the NCAA Tournament's South Region this Sunday at Viejas Arena in San Diego. The Bruins defeated Tulsa, 76-59, in the second round of the tournament on Friday night. Jordan Adams led UCLA with 21 points and eight rebounds in the win. UCLA is seeking its first appearance in the "Sweet 16" since 2008 with a victory over Stephen F. Austin this Sunday.

SUNDAY'S GAME IN SAN DIEGO

Venue: Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl (11,564)

Game Time: 4:10 pm (PT)

TV Station: TBS

TV Talents: Andrew Catalon (play-by-play), Mike Gminski (analyst), Otis Livingston (sideline)

Radio: AM 570 (KLAC)

Radio Talent: Chris Roberts (play-by-play), Tracy Murray (analyst)

AGAINST THE LUMBERJACKS

UCLA has gone 1-0 in the all-time series against Stephen F. Austin. The Bruins won the only previous meeting between the two programs, securing a 109-88 victory on Dec. 18, 1995. Toby Bailey finished that game with his only career triple-double (23 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists). Stephen F. Austin defeated VCU in overtime, 77-75, on Friday evening to advance to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

ROUND OF 32

• UCLA has advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Round of 32 for the first time since 2011. Since the inception of this tournament featuring a "Round of 64" in 1985, UCLA has gone 17-6 in its opening games. UCLA is seeking its first "Sweet 16" appearance since 2008, when the Bruins advanced to the Final Four for the third straight season.

• The Bruins advanced to a third round NCAA Tournament matchup by defeating Tulsa, 76-59, before 11,488 at Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl on Friday evening. Jordan Adams led the Bruins with 21 points and eight rebounds, while Norman Powell totaled 15 points, four rebounds and three steals. UCLA led 59-54 with 4:54 to play in regulation and closed the game on a 17-5 scoring run to advance to a Sunday evening meeting against Stephen F. Austin.

• UCLA's 17-point win on Friday against Tulsa marked the Bruins' largest margin of victory in the NCAA Tournament since defeating No. 3-seed Xavier by 19 points (76-57) in the 2008 West Regional final in Phoenix (March 29, 2008). UCLA's 79 points scored against Tulsa marked the Bruins' highest point total in the NCAA Tournament since March 27, 2008, when UCLA took down Western Kentucky, 88-78, in the Sweet 16.

UPDATED NOTES

• UCLA is making its 46th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, having earned its highest tournament seed (No. 4) since entering the 2008 field as the No. 1 seed in the West Region ... the Bruins are one of six Pac-12 Conference programs in the 68-team field (joining Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon and Stanford).

• The Bruins secured the Pac-12 Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning its fourth Pac-12 Tournament title in the 17-year history of the tournament ... UCLA defeated Arizona, 75-71, in the title game ... Jordan Adams nailed a tie-breaking three-pointer to give UCLA a 71-68 cushion with 45 seconds to play.

• Under the leadership of head coach Steve Alford, in his first season at UCLA, the Bruins have gone 27-8 overall, recording their highest single-season win total since going 35-4 in 2007-08 ... last week, UCLA won its three games in the Pac-12 Tournament by an average of 16.0 points per game, averaging 80.3 points per contest.

• UCLA finished its regular season schedule with a second-place finish in the competitive Pac-12 Conference standings (12-6 Pac-12 record), trailing first-place Arizona (15-3 Pac-12) by three games.

• The Bruins have won at least 20 games in 48 seasons, including 31 times in the last 39 years (since John Wooden retired in 1975) ... UCLA has won at least 27 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2007-08.

• Kyle Anderson has averaged closer to a triple-double than any other player in the nation ... the Bruins' sophomore 6-foot-9 point guard enters the third round averaging 14.7 points per game, leading the team in rebounds per game (8.8) and the conference in assists per game (6.6) ... he has registered a Pac-12-best 16 double-doubles.

• Under Coach Alford's direction, UCLA has averaged its highest offensive output (81.7 ppg) since the Bruins averaged 83.1 points per game in 1997-98 ... in his 23rd season as a college head coach, Alford has guided his teams to at least 22 wins in each of the last seven seasons (includes his six seasons as New Mexico's head coach).

• Jordan Adams leads UCLA in scoring (17.4 ppg) and ranks seventh in that category in the Pac-12 ... Adams scored a career-high 31 points at Washington (March 6) to pass the 1,000 career point mark ... he also leads all Pac-12 players with 92 steals, the UCLA single-season record (surpassing Cameron Dollar's 82 steals in 1997).

• UCLA's roster features seven players who have scored at least 20 points in one career game, with six of those seven having registered at least 20 points in a game this season ... Jordan Adams leads the Bruins with 13 games of 20 points or more and has scored in double figures in 29 of 34 games played.

ALL-PAC-12 ACCOLADES

Jordan Adams (17.4 pgg, 5.4 rpg) and Kyle Anderson (14.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 6.6 apg) earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors, marking the second consecutive year in which two UCLA players secured first-team acclaim (last season, Larry Drew II and Shabazz Muhammad). In addition, Bryce Alford (8.1 ppg, 2.7 apg) and Zach LaVine (9.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg) were among five players named to the conference's All-Freshman Team.

MARCH MADNESS

Head coach Steve Alford has become the 12th head coach in college basketball history to have led at least four NCAA Division I programs to the NCAA Tournament (Missouri State, Iowa, New Mexico and UCLA). In addition, he is just one of five head coaches in that select group to have won at least one NCAA Tournament game at four schools.

CONNECT FOUR

The other 11 coaches to have led at least four NCAA Division I teams to the NCAA Tournament include John Beilein, Lefty Driesell, Cliff Ellis, Larry Eustachy, Jim Harrick, Lon Kruger, Fran McCaffery, Tom Penders, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and Eddie Sutton. Eight of those 11 coaches are active head coaches.

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