Does Saturday afternoon’s third-round (that still sounds wrong – damn you First Four!) Southeast Region matchup in Tampa between UCLA and Florida sound rather familiar? It should: Florida beat the Bruins in the 2006 National Championship Game and again in the 2007 Final Four. The winner of this one gets a trip to New Orleans to face the Gonzaga-BYU winner in the Sweet 16.
How the Teams Enter
No. 7 UCLA was clobbering No. 10 Michigan State on Thursday night, but then let off the gas pedal. The Bruins led by as much as 23 points with just over eight minutes remaining, but needed a Kalin Lucas travel call to in the final second to secure a 78-76 victory. The Bruins, who never trailed in the game, had four players in double figures, led by Tyler Honeycutt with 16. Malcolm Lee, who is playing through an injury, added 15 and was stellar on defense against Lucas. The L.A. media called UCLA’s play up to that 23-point lead its best basketball of the season. This is the same team that gagged against Oregon in its Pac-10 Tournament opener.
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No. 2 Florida essentially has home-court advantage in Tampa as it’s about a 90-minute drive from the Gainesville campus. The Gators had little trouble stomping No. 15 UC Santa Barbara, 79-51. It was UF’s first NCAA Tournament win since winning the national title over Ohio State in 2007. The Gators built a 43-19 halftime lead and were up by as many as 34 points in the second half. It was never in doubt.
UCLA vs. Florida Betting Storylines
Obviously UF wouldn’t be in this game had it lost to UCSB, but it’s almost a shame that the Gators didn’t lose. Thursday’s win improved Florida to 7-0 after a loss this season – the Gators entered off an SEC Tournament loss to Kentucky. Florida has lost just twice in the past 13 games – both to Kentucky. The Gators were supposed to be good this year as they returned all five starters. Chandler Parsons, the SEC Player of the Year, was the star Thursday, finishing with 10 points, a career-high 10 assists and seven rebounds. Three more rebounds and he would have been the first UF player in history to record a triple-double in the NCAA Tournament. Florida held an opponent to its second-lowest total in NCAA Tournament history.
The only negative you can take from UCLA’s performance was free throws. In the second half, the Bruins were just 15-for-28 from the line, a big reason why the game got closer than it should have. UCLA was just 3-for-12 from the line in the final 1:31. But it was pretty obvious the team just lost its focus with such a big lead. UCLA’s 42-24 halftime lead was the team's biggest advantage at the break since its season-opening 83-50 win over Cal State Northridge. It was the Bruins’ 100th NCAA Tournament victory. If UCLA takes a double-digit lead it is money, however. The Bruins are 21-0 this season in games that they have held a lead of 10 points or more at some point.
UCLA went 2-2 against ranked opponents during the season and now is 5-7 vs. the tournament field. The Gators are 14-3 against tournament teams.
UCLA vs. Florida Betting Odds and Trends
UF has opened as a five-point favorite with the total at 129.5, according to college basketball odds. The Gators are 4-1 on neutral courts this year while UCLA is 2-3.
The Bruins are 8-0 ATS in their past eight vs. teams with a winning record.
UF is 6-1-1 ATS in its past eight vs. teams with a winning record.
The ‘over’ is 8-1 in Florida’s past nine games.
The ‘over’ is 7-0 in UCLA’s past seven neutral site games.
March Madness Picks: UCLA vs. Florida Predictions
The Gators got to rest all of their starters pretty early in Thursday’s game, while UCLA obviously got a little pressed at the end of its game. No one is left from the teams’ previous meeting so throw out the revenge factor. UCLA has more pure talent, I would argue, but UF is a better “team” and of course will have the crowd advantage. It’s never easy to predict which Bruins team shows up. But I believe it will be the UCLA one that at least covers if doesn’t win outright. And take the ‘over’ – that’s a low total.
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