Vegas has UCLA has the 7.5 point favorite, and the Bruins beat UAB in the B4A Tournament, 88-76, but the first half score was 49-33 -- UCLA took it's foot off the gas. So this should be easy, right? Maybe.
Isaac Hamilton scored 21 points in that game, and shut down UAB's Robert Brown holding him to 2 points. That same Robert Brown scored 21 in UAB's win over Iowa State -- he's their leading scorer averaging 13.3 ppg. Hamilton's been inconsistent, so that's one thing to watch for -- Hamilton will surely guard Brown, can he shut him down again?
UAB also retooled their lineup and changed their style a bit. 6'9" freshman William Lee replaced 6'8" senior C.J. Washington in the starting lineup (Lee had surgery on both knees prior to the season and didn't play in the B4A). Their relative stats: Lee 8.0 ppg/6.0 rpg vs. Washington 6.8/3.9. Lee is actually a good three point shooter at 44.2%, but he's only third on the team in three point attempts, Brown is the leader but his percent 31.8%. UAB is bad at the three, but they're taking less. They defense is low ranked on almost all measures, but they seem to have stepped it up late in the season.
UAB was out-shot by Iowa State in every way except at the free throw line. Both teams shot abysmally, but UAB won that game on the offensive glass: 19-9. This brings up Tony Parker. What happened to him? Once again he disappeared. Thomas Welsh outplayed him in the Arizona game, and got more minutes in the SMU game, 22-18. It's concerning given how much we've spoken about the need to have an inside-out game run through Tony. SMU was one of the better interior teams the Bruins have faced, but scoring 2 points with 3 rebounds is unacceptable. This will be interesting to follow -- are there ramifications for next year, Welsh vs. Parker?
Fortunately, Welsh is playing well. Unfortunately, the Bruins are a guard-oriented team without Parker.
Let's go to the stats.
Both teams play at a relatively slow pace. On offense (and this is rare), UCLA is the better shooting team, goes to the line more and turns the ball over less. UAB has been a better offensive rebounding team. On defense (also rare to say), the Bruins allow a lower shooting percent, allow fewer offensive rebounds, but turn the ball over more. The offensive rebound discrepancy is probably due to UAB's miserable perimeter shooting allowing for more long rebounds.
UAB appears to have tightened up its perimeter defense during the course of the season, and inserting Lee into the lineup has helped on the boards. My concern is that UCLA is now overly reliant on Alford and Powell to carry them. If they are defended well, UAB could win.
There is an emotional element to the UAB story. They bottomed out in a blow-out loss to North Carolina right after it was announced that football would be discontinued at UAB. The coach retooled the shot selection, and the team started to play better.
That said, once again, the Bruins have superior talent and the stats suggest a comfortable victory.