UCLA's Defense Spearheads its Final Four Run

by Team Del Genio

UCLA reached the Final Four on Tuesday in a 51-49 victory against Michigan. The Bruins only shot 38.9% from the field but they stymied the Wolverines to just a 39.2% field goal percentage to hold them off and grind out a low-scoring victory that only had 100 combined points scored. Probably just like their head coach Mick Cronin likes it.

In our write-up for UCLA in their upset victory against Alabama on Sunday, we wrote: “(Mick Cronin) may have made a breakthrough with his team after they gave up 44 points in the first half to Michigan State in the play-in game. The Bruins allowed only 36 points in the next 25 minutes which included an overtime session with UCLA rallying from a double-digit deficit to win and advance. The Bruins defense has been suffocating ever since. In their 67-47 victory against Abilene Christian on Monday, UCLA held them to just 29.8% shooting including 15 misses of their 19 shots from the 3-point line. Since halftime against the Spartans, the Bruins have played their next 105 minutes in the NCAA tournament at a defensive rate that would translate into 55.2 points-per-game on 42.4% shooting. This is the formula for success for Cronin.” 

UCLA’s 88-78 final score victory against the Crimson Tide was misleading since the score was tied at 65 at the end of regulation. That was 9.5 points below the closing over/under number. The Bruins scored a surprising 23 points in the five-minute overtime period to cruise to the victory. They held Alabama to just a 43.5% field goal percentage. Even after the Tide scored 78 points on Sunday, the UCLA defensive numbers continued to look impressive. Since the start of the second half against Michigan State through their game against Alabama, the Bruins were holding their opponents to 42.3% shooting from the field and limiting their opponents to a scoring rate that would see just 59.4 points-per-game. 

Cronin goes into the Final Four with defensive numbers that translate into holding their opponents to 57.3 points-per-game on 42.1% shooting since that opening first half against the Spartans. This includes UCLA playing three teams that ranked in the top thirty in the nation in offensive efficiency in those 190 minutes of play including a Michigan team that was ranked seventh nationally at the time. 

Now the Bruins face the nation’s top offensive team in Gonzaga who are putting up historic numbers. It remains to be seen if UCLA can stay competitive in this game. If they can, it will likely be because they turn the game into a rock-fight like they successfully did against the Wolverines. 

Good luck - TDG.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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