LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — UAB junior guard Robert Brown is one those people happy to see UCLA win in the NCAA Tournament, no matter how they advanced.
A questionable goaltending call on Bryce Alford’s 3-pointer gave the Bruins a victory and the 14th-seeded Blazers a chance to measure how much they’ve grown this season.
The teams play Saturday in a rematch of a UCLA’s 88-76 win in the Bahamas in November with the stakes much higher than that game for seventh-place in the Battle 4 Atlantis. This time, the winner heads to Houston for the South Regional semifinal.
“We do have a little payback for them, and we want to play them,” Brown said Friday.
Well, the Bruins are looking forward to what will be only the fifth NCAA game between 11 and 14 seeds — 11 seeds are 4-0 in those games. They took notice of UAB’s 60-59 upset of No. 3 seed Iowa State.
“We know they’re a great team,” UCLA senior Norman Powell said. “We know we’re a great team. So it’s going to be fun to play them again.”
The growing pains have been similar for UCLA and UAB.
UCLA was struggling at 8-7 in early January with Powell the only senior starting. The Bruins’ spot in this tournament was doubted by many, and adding a goaltending call dissected across the Internet has only focused more attention on UCLA with the Bruins (21-13) now a game away from a second straight Sweet 16 berth.
“This team has dealt with a lot of adversity, a lot of criticism for the games we’ve played in,” Powell said. “Something we’ve all done is believed in one another, believed the team … We know what we can do, and we’ve just got to go out there and perform.”
The Blazers came into this season with the third-youngest team in Division I with a combined seven years of experience. Until the tournament’s first big upset, UAB was best known for shutting down its football program in December.
In the Bahamas, coach Jerod Haase had freshmen and sophomores facing UCLA in their third game in as many days against ranked teams. Being without 6-foot-9 freshman William Lee as he recovered from an injury didn’t help. It was part of a 4-9 start for the Blazers that forced Haase to order some players not to shoot and do what the coaches told them going into Conference USA play.
Now the Blazers (20-15) are very confident themselves wanting their program’s fourth Sweet 16 berth and first since 2004.
“It’s night and day,” Haase said.
Some things to watch for on Saturday:
ALFORD FROM 3: The coach’s son and sophomore guard was 9 of 11 outside the arc in the Bruins’ opening win. Alford now has the UCLA single-season record with 88 made 3-pointers topping Arron Afflalo’s mark of 87 in 2007. UCLA coach Steve Alford says he never hit more than eight 3s in a game. “The dad in me says you made eight, son, because the ninth one never did go in the basket,” the UCLA coach said. “You get credit for it. The coach in me says, ‘OK, I’ll give you credit because without that ninth one, we wouldn’t have advanced.’ ”
DEFENDING BRYCE ALFORD: The Blazers have noticed how the Bruins screen to free Alford up to shoot. UAB guard Denzell Watts said they want to keep Alford from getting comfortable. The Blazers are holding opponents to 32.2 percent shooting outside the arc.
DOUBLE-DIGIT SEEDS: The Bruins’ win over SMU was their first as a double-digit seed in this tournament, but it was only their second game with such a seed. Now they must try to avoid becoming the first 11 seed to lose to a 14. According to STATS, the winning 11s include Minnesota over Siena in 1989, Connecticut against Xavier in 1991, Washington over Richmond in 1998 and Tennessee big over Mercer last year.
HIT THE BOARDS: UAB dominated Iowa State on the boards with a 52-37 edge. UCLA’s pretty good on the glass too after leading the Pac-12 grabbing 38 rebounds per game. Kevon Looney ranks third nationally averaging 9.2 rebounds a game.