Minnesota (20-12) vs. UCLA (25-9)
Friday, March 22, 9:57 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Erwin Center (16,734) -- Austin, Texas. Television: truTV. NCAA Tournament Record: Minnesota 12-11, UCLA 100-37. Series Record: UCLA leads, 5-1.
GAME NOTES: The final tip-off of the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament will take place on Friday night between the 11th-seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers and the sixth-seeded UCLA Bruins at the Erwin Center.
The winner will advance to the South Region's third round on Sunday to play either third-seeded Florida or 14th-seeded Northwestern State.
Minnesota backed into the tournament with three straight losses, most recently falling at the buzzer to Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Conference Tournament, 51-49, but its 20-12 record in one of the toughest league's in the nation, plus its handful of signature wins (Memphis, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana) assured it a spot in this field. The Gophers have made the NCAA Tournament three times in Tubby Smith's six seasons as head coach. but they have yet to advance to the Round of 32 under Smith.
Despite losing the Pac-12 Conference Tournament title game to Oregon (78-69), UCLA has pieced together a strong season at 25-9 while winning the Pac-12 regular-season crown outright, although it benefited from playing in a diluted league this season, with its only quality win outside of conference coming against Missouri. The Bruins have now made the tournament field seven times in 10 seasons under head coach Ben Howland, and with 45 trips, 100 wins and 11 national championships, they are one of the most decorated teams in NCAA Tournament history.
UCLA leads the all-time series with Minnesota, 5-1, but all five wins came during the 1960s. The Gophers won most recently, claiming an 80-72 triumph in an Elite Eight matchup during the 1997 NCAA Tournament.
Like most of its Big Ten brethren, Minnesota had to survive this season by playing strong at both the offensive (68.4 ppg) and defensive (61.7 ppg) ends of the court, although in its last 14 games (in which its gone just 5-9), it has scored 62 points or less 10 times. The Gophers rely on a strong, balanced starting five, with Andre Hollins (13.9 ppg, 3.4 apg) and Austin Hollins (10.6 ppg, 1.7 spg) manning the perimeter. The pair have been crucial late in games with impressive free-throw percentages, with both making better than 78 percent of their attempts from the stripe. UM is equally stellar down low, with Trevor Mbakwe (10.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.5 bpg) and Rodney Williams (10.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg) making a difference at both ends. Joe Coleman rounds out the starting lineup with 8.7 ppg on nearly 48 percent accuracy from the field.
While UCLA hasn't played as well defensively as it would like (68.9 ppg), it makes up for it by boasting an impressive scoring attack, netting nearly 75 ppg on 45.5 percent from the field. Doing the majority of the damage is freshman sensation Shabazz Muhammad, who has shown elite scoring ability with 17.8 ppg on 44.7 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 70.6 percent from the foul line, although his assist (26) to turnover (50) ratio suggests something of a selfish streak. Jordan Adams is a great second option with 15.3 ppg, but his 3-point percentage (.307) leaves much to be desired. Travis Wear is solid with 11.2 ppg and 5.2 rpg, Kyle Anderson (9.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.8 spg, 0.9 bpg) is also a factor in the low post, and Larry Drew II (7.6 ppg, 7.4 apg) is one of the best distributors in the nation.
Although UCLA has been more consistent than Minnesota this year, it certainly isn't as battle-tested as the Gophers, and in terms of pure talent up and down the lineup, these two teams match up very well. Minnesota's Jekyll and Hyde personality this season makes it nearly impossible to trust Smith's club to pull off a significant run in this event, but for one game, if UM's stout defense can bottle up Muhammad, it could pull off the upset.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Minnesota 70, UCLA 68
03/22 10:32:10 ET