What the Pac-12 has woven in March has been scintillating, and the 11-seeded Bruins showed the backbone of the league when they entered the NCAAs on a four-game losing streak.
They trailed Michigan State in a play-in game, but they dug down, forced overtime and won. Then they defeated BYU, Abilene Christian and 2-seeded Alabama on Sunday.
The Tide had zapped the Bruins, too, with a game-tying, buzzer-beating 3-point shot to end regulation. That would deflate many teams, but UCLA coach Mick Cronin, tough as last month’s sirloin, conveyed steadiness and calm.
That stubbornness plays a major role in dissecting the March Madness betting possibilities of this East Regional final inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
- Michigan -7 vs. UCLA, Total 136, Tuesday, 9:57 pm ET
- Action: UCLA +7
This Elite Eight game between 1-seeded Michigan (23-4) and UCLA (21-9) has a different wrinkle of which Cronin is well aware.
“A great challenge,” he said of the Wolverines. “Juwan Howard does a great job. They’re extremely efficient. They carve you up. It’s going to be a different type of game.
“Alabama was unbelievably fast in transition. Michigan is Big Ten basketball, physical, but their execution is extremely impressive … and they’ve got great senior guards. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Michigan shoots free throws better (77.4% to 71.5%), owns a lethal 2-point-shooting defense (42.6%, third-lowest in the nation), and hits 3-pointers at a sterling 38.3% clip, No. 11 in the country.
UCLA is mediocre in defending the perimeter, allowing foes to hit 33.8% of their attempts. Overall, Michigan has the edges.
Senior guard Chaundee Brown, the Wake Forest transfer, has filled in admirably for the injured Isaiah Livers. And at 19-8, Michigan has been one of the top cover teams in the country this season.
The scale so favors the Wolverines, who are powerful with top-10-rated adjusted efficiencies on both offense and defense.
They’ve got the powerful low-post game with 7-1 freshman Hunter Dickinson, sophomore forward Franz Wagner, junior Brandon Johns and senior Austin Davis.
Mike Smith and Eli Brooks are the guards who go, and Brown has been ready when called upon.
But second-year Michigan coach Juwan Howard provided some direction.
“Their grit is what has impressed me the most,” he said of the Bruins. “They play with a chip on their shoulder … a lot of people have dumped on them; said they don’t believe they should be here or don’t deserve to be here.
“I’m sure they use that as fuel to light a fire underneath them. But it doesn’t have to, because each and every player on that roster is high-character. I just watched the film, and [they] go out there and compete for forty minutes. They don’t give up. They’re relentless.”
Johnny Juzang (20 ppg in the NCAAs), Jaime Jaquez (16.8 ppg) and Jules Bernard are the 6-foot-6 players who seem to stick their noses everywhere. And Tyger Campbell, the 5-11 sophomore from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has 18 assists and only four turnovers in four tournament games for the Bruins.
UCLA for the stubborn cover seems to be the wise call.
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire