USA TODAY Sports’ Nicole Auerbach breaks down what you need to know ahead of the NCAA tournament’s second weekend.
USA TODAY Sports
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For UCLA, a murderers’ row of college basketball looms.
Chances are, to get to the national championship game, the third-seeded Bruins will have to beat not only No. 2 seed Kentucky, but also No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 1 seed Kansas.
After watching UCLA beat his team 79-67 Sunday night, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said he offered UCLA coach Steve Alford more than congratulations.
“I told him they got a chance to win the whole thing,’’ Cronin said. “I wished him luck.’’
UCLA will need some luck — if it hopes to survive the run of bluebloods that begins Friday in Memphis, where the Bruins play Kentucky in a rematch of their Dec. 3 game, which UCLA won 97-92 in Lexington, Ky. Then the road could get tougher.
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The Bruins would face the winner of top-seeded North Carolina vs. fourth-seeded Butler. And if UCLA beats that opponent, wins the South Region and reaches the Final Four, it would face the winner from the Midwest Region, where Kansas is the top seed.
“I think we’re very well prepared for whatever is thrown at us, just because we’re 35 games in,’’ said Alford, whose team is 31-4. “Doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. It gets tougher each bracket that you get to.
“… We know we got a tall order ahead of us. We also know we’re a very good basketball team.’’
A very good, but sometimes inconsistent basketball team. On Sunday against No. 6 seed Cincinnati, for example, the Bruins shot just 37.5% from the floor in the first half and trailed 33-30.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA’s star point guard, had seven points and zero assists. By the end of the game, he had 18 points and nine assists and had fueled the Bruins with several big plays — including back-to-back three-pointers.
“I don’t know of a more fun basketball team to watch when we’re clicking and we’ve had a lot of games where we’ve been clicking,’’ Alford said. “Now we can go to a different level offensively and you saw that in the second half.’’
Question is, can UCLA do it against the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas?
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