SWEET 16 PREVIEW: March 20
West Region: UCLA (8) vs. MISSOURI (12) | Thursday, 10:15 p.m. ET
I call this the "Get Off My Back Classic."
That's right ... both UCLA coach Steve Lavin and Missouri coach Quin Snyder have been criticized and ripped this season. Talk about two guys getting negative publicity -- and they both won 20 games. Before the season started, both schools were picked in the top 10, and guess what -- here they are, baby!
At UCLA, Lavin is a victim of all the success of the John Wooden era. It's a tough act to follow. He has to live with that as a standard! All of those who came after Mr. Wooden have had the same problem.
Steve Lavin is a victim of the success of the John Wooden era.
Think about what Lavin has accomplished over the past six seasons -- five trips to the Sweet 16! Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is the only other coach to accomplish that feat. Then again, they don't hang banners for the Sweet 16 at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. There isn't a whole lot of excitement in L.A. unless you cut down the nets, like Jim Harrick did in 1995 when Lavin was a young assistant.
This year, the Bruins must ride the shoulders of their veterans. Matt Barnes and Billy Knight give UCLA versatility on the perimeter; they can pass the ball well, make open shots and create problems with their multidimensional talents. Dan Gadzuric is a true low-post center who is effective when he gets the ball in deep. Just ask Cincinnati: Gadzuric scored 26 points (13-of-20 from the field) in the Bruins' upset of the Bearcats. Since UCLA is capable of beating anyone, perhaps that shouldn't be called an upset.
Gadzuric should challenge Missouri's Arthur Johnson in the paint. Johnson must neutralize Gadzuric and establish himself in the post. This should be a war, and the player who stays out of foul trouble will have the edge.
UCLA sharpshooter Jason Kapono has to stroke the trifecta; he scored only two points against Mississippi before finally getting it going against Cincinnati. When he's on, together with the Bruins' other weapons, they're tough to beat.
For Snyder's Tigers to be successful, Kareem Rush and Clarence Gilbert have to make trifectas. Missouri needs solid point-guard play from Wesley Stokes when he comes off the bench. Tigers guard Rickey Paulding has been a major asset on the wing, averaging 18 ppg and 7.5 rpg while shooting 59 percent from the field in the Tournament. He can help neutralize UCLA's Barnes and Co.
I see this as a toss-up, a real Maalox masher! I give a slight edge to Missouri. The Tigers gave Duke a battle last year in the NCAA Tournament, and this team seems to be having so much fun. Missouri is really in rhythm, and the Tigers are much more than Kareem Rush. Their tourney wins over Miami and Ohio State came because of fast starts -- and Uncle Mo(mentum) is on the side of Mr. Snyder.