UCLA cruised to an opening round win over Belmont by a final of 78-44 on Thursday, but they should not expect the same cordial treatment from Alabama on Saturday in second round play (5:10 tip). The Tide upset seventh-seeded Marquette on Thursday in a game they controlled for a majority of the contest and have a red-hot hand in 6-7 forward Jean Felix who hit a 'Bama tourney record eight triples in the opening round win.
Talented 6-7 freshman forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute had arguably his best game as a Bruin, leading the team in points (17), rebounds (8), assists (6) and steals (3). They will need him to continue the performances he has given the Bruins this year and also more strong play out of their backcourt to counter the inside-outside game of Alabama led by the hot-handed Felix.
Felix is an enigma, though. His 8-11 performance from the field in the first round was preceded by a 1-9 shooting output in the Tide's first round game in the SEC Tournament against Kentucky. BamaOnLine.com senior editor Travis Reier said the Tide should not be setting up their game plan with a repeat performance from Felix in mind.
"I think there is still some concern because I don't think they can count on getting 31 from Jean Felix two games in a row," Reier said. "I don't know that you can bank on that type of a performance again from him.
"If they do get continued good play out of Ronald Steele and Jamareo Davidson, then they have a chance. As good as Felix was, if they don't get 23 from Steele and 21 from Davidson, it really doesn't matter. Those are the rocks that they lean on. They are two all-conference players and they are going to have to play well once again for Alabama to have a chance."
One area Marquette was able to exploit on Thursday against the Tide's zone defense was getting their cutters easy lay-ins around the basket. The Golden Eagles' 5-11 freshman point guard Dominic James found a lot of success driving the lane even with the 6-10 Davidson and 6-8 Richard Hendrix manning the interior of the Tide zone.
"They have trouble with recognition at times, not only in half court, but also in transition," Reier noted. "Recognition defensively has been a little bit of an issue for them and it was a little discouraging because they are playing zone and I think they maybe got a little too caught up in guarding [Marquette forward Steve] Novak and the cutters were able to get some wide open looks right around the basket."
One major advantage for UCLA will be bench depth. Arguably the Tide's best player coming into the season, 6-8 forward Chuck Davis was lost mid-season with a season ending injury and Alabama really goes just seven deep. The point guard, Steele, played all 40 minutes in just about every SEC game this season. He has the size to match up with UCLA's Jordan Farmar, but will he have the wind at the end of the game to continue to hang with him?
"I think Alabama, going into this game, they expect to have their hands full with UCLA's guards, but what can't happen is Hendrix and Davidson not win out on the boards," Reier said. "Those two guys inside, if nothing else, have to A, stay out of follow trouble because they don't have anybody else and B, take advantage of the matchup they have."
After Mbah a Moute's performance on Thursday and center Ryan Hollins' continued presence underneath, UCLA has the tools in place to spoil Alabama's weekend.