As of Monday, March 18, 2013
© Copyright 2013
Gwinnett Daily Post
Preview: UCLA vs. Minnesota
UCLA and Minnesota will meet for the seventh time Friday, going head-to-head in the opening round of the South Regional in Austin, Texas. The sixth-seeded Bruins won the Pac-12 regular-season title before losing to Oregon in Saturday's conference championship game. The 11th-seeded Golden Gophers tied for seventh in the Big Ten before they were ousted in the first round of the tournament by Illinois. Minnesota posted some impressive wins along the way, however, knocking off then-No. 1 Indiana last month and also beating Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan State when those teams were ranked.
Minnesota also beat Pac-12 schools Stanford (66-63) and USC (71-57) during the non-conference portion of its schedule. The Bruins won both meetings against Stanford and split with USC this season. The Golden Gophers last played UCLA in the Elite Eight at the 1997 NCAA Tournament. Minnesota won that game but later had to return the profits from its run to the Final Four after an investigation found massive academic fraud within the program. UCLA won the other five meetings, most recently in 1969.
TV: 9:57 p.m. ET, truTV
ABOUT UCLA (25-9): The Bruins didn't fare well in their first game without freshman guard Jordan Adams, who suffered a season-ending foot injury on the last play of their Pac-12 semifinal victory Friday against Arizona. Adams, the team's second-leading scorer (15.3) and Pac-12 steals leader (2.2), watched from the bench as UCLA was beaten 78-69 by Oregon in the tournament final. The Bruins aren't a deep team anyway, so the loss of Adams is sure to put a lot of strain on the remaining starters, particularly swingman Shabazz Muhammad, the Pac-12 co-Freshman of the Year. Muhammad will need to get off to a better start than he did in the conference tournament, when he combined for just nine first-half points in the three games.
ABOUT MINNESOTA (20-12): The Bruins have struggled against physical big men this season and the Golden Gophers have a powerful force down low in senior Trevor Mbakwe, who led the Big Ten in rebounding for a second time. The 6-8 forward from St. Paul, Minn. averaged 8.7 boards, including a conference-leading 3.3 on the offensive end. Mbakwe made news before the start of the season when faced possible jail time for violating his probation on an arrest last summer for driving under the influence. Instead, he was sentenced to two years' probation, as well as community service. Mbakwe then raised eyebrows when he guaranteed Minnesota would make the NCAA Tournament this season or he would pay back his scholarship money.
UCLA is 5-1 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in the 10 seasons under coach Ben Howland.
The winner of Friday's game will meet third-seeded Florida or No. 14 seed Northwestern State in Sunday's second round.
Minnesota coach Tubby Smith is making his 17th trip to the NCAA Tournament in his 22nd season as a head coach. He's 29-15 all time in the tournament.
PREDICTION: UCLA 70, Minnesota 63.