Big, strong and quick — UCLA basketball players say that Florida reminds them a lot of Arizona.
And that could be a good thing.
Heading into a game against the Gators on Thursday in an NCAA South Regional semifinal, the Bruins believe their victory over Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament gives them reason to feel confident against an East Coast powerhouse that entered March Madness as the top overall seed.
“Arizona was one of the better games we played this year,” forward Travis Wear said Tuesday as his team finished morning practice and boarded buses to the airport for the trip to Memphis, Tenn. “We can look back on that.”
Coach Steve Alford agreed with Wear’s assessment. For the most part.
Florida plays with similar physicality and defensive aggressiveness, he said, but the Gators run more ball screens and like to press more. For a UCLA team that had 22 assists with only three turnovers against Stephen F. Austin on Sunday, the latter characteristic could prove crucial.
“If we’re a good ballhandling team in this game, we’re going to give ourselves a very good chance,” Alford said. “If we don’t handle the ball well, then it could be a long night for us.”
UCLA versus Florida is a rematch and, for the Bruins, a grudge match.
Florida has three NCAA tournament victories over UCLA since 2006.
The Bruins do have one important win over the Gators, though.
Both schools recruited guard Kyle Anderson from Jersey City (N.J.) St. Anthony High, but the Bruins got him.
“It was down to Seton Hall, Florida and UCLA,” Anderson said. “I thought UCLA was the best place for me.”
“Absolutely not,” Anderson said. “I love UCLA. I didn’t want to go to Florida.”
A year ago, UCLA slinked home, embarrassed after being blasted by Minnesota in an NCAA tournament opener.
It might have been worth the angst.
“Our guys came back and had a mind-set that we didn’t want to end this year like that,” Anderson said.
The memory provided an underlying theme for the Bruins in last weekend’s opening NCAA games against Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin in San Diego.
Said forward David Wear: “Seeing where we were a year ago, losing that first game, and coming off two big wins to get to the Sweet 16 this year, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Wear said a big factor in last season’s loss to Minnesota was that UCLA did not have guard Jordan Adams, who had suffered a broken foot during the Pac-12 tournament.
Adams leads UCLA with a 17.4 scoring average and 93 steals, and is second in rebounding at 5.4 a game. “He does so many things for us,” Wear said.
Adams, a 6-foot-5 sophomore guard, did not travel with the Bruins to the NCAA tournament last season. He watched the Minnesota game with friends, sitting on his couch after undergoing surgery two days earlier.
“I was critiquing us: ‘We should do this; we should do that,’ ” Adams said. “I knew what we were capable of last year. I just wasn’t in there playing.”
UCLA had 39 assists and 13 turnovers in its first two NCAA games. The Bruins had 22 assists on 29 field goals in a 77-60 victory over Stephen F. Austin. … Adams was 15 for 24 shooting in the two games. … Guard Norman Powell, who went to high school in the San Diego area, had three spectacular dunks against Stephen F. Austin. Said teammate Tony Parker: “He was just showing off for the hometown crowd.”