East Region: No. 5 Saint Mary’s (26-7) vs. No. 4 UCLA (26-7)
Time: Saturday, March 19 at 7:10 p.m. ET
Where: Moda Center (Portland, Ore.)
DraftKings Spread: UCLA -2.5
Saint Mary’s had one of the more eye-opening performances in the first round when they blasted No. 12 Indiana 82-53. After a slow start, the Gaels offense got rolling slicing and dicing the Hoosiers defense. Logan Johnson lead the way with 20, Tommy Kuhse added 19, and Saint Mary’s dominated the glass 39-28. Only three starters played over 30 minutes, the Gaels are rested heading into one of the marquee matchups of the second round matchup against UCLA.
Bruin fans hands were sweaty late Thursday as they watched UCLA climb back from a seven-point deficit with seven minutes remaining. The Bruins were able to pull through thanks to Tyger Campbell’s 16 points and his late three with a minute to go sealed the game at the end. The Bruins needed a late 15-2 run to pull ahead and win yet another close NCAA Tournament game. Akron gave UCLA trouble with their methodical pace and slowed the game down. It’s something I expect Saint Mary’s to do here.
Keys for Saint Mary’s
Win the Rebounding Battle:
Saint Mary’s ability to keep Indiana off the boards was a huge reason for their dominance on Thursday. The Gaels will have to continue that. When you take out the USC games, UCLA has had at least 12 offensive rebounds in their last seven games. The Gaels rank third nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. They will have to keep the offensive glass clean once again.
Saint Mary’s lockdown defense and can UCLA stay hot from mid-range?
UCLA offensive style plays exactly into what Saint Mary’s want to do. UCLA plays isolation at one of highest rates in the country. The Gaels allow the lowest assist rate in the nation. The focus of the Saint Mary’s defense is to stop dribble drive penetration, force shooters off the 3-point line and makes teams settle for mid-range jumpers. UCLA takes mid-range jumpers at the seventh-highest rate nationally and makes them at the 24th-most efficent rate per Haslam metrics. Saint Mary’s is going to force UCLA to make tough shots, will the Bruins still be consistent in making them.
Slowing the Game Down:
Like I said before, Akron’s methodical style really gave UCLA fits. Saint Mary’s runs a ball screen oriented offense that is predicated on off-ball movement. Tommy Kuhse is one of the best pick and roll guards you will find. That really is the only area this UCLA defense has struggled to figure out this year. We recently saw Arizona exclusively run pick and roll at Myles Johnson in the second half of the Pac-12 championship game. The Gaels are going to win one on one against this UCLA defense. But their system is going to be able to scheme open looks. If they keep this a low-possession ball centric game, the Gaels are going to have a pretty good chance.
This is a true toss up game. Saint Mary’s will dominate the boards, and I think they will have success offensively in spurts. Randy Bennett has done a lot of things for this Saint Mary’s program, but he has only made the Sweet 16 one time. He has a chance to double that number Saturday. UCLA’s March experience and talent is hard to fade. They have so many weapons and there are three or four guys that are comfortable hitting the big shot. I can’t say the same for the Gaels. There is some value on the Gaels, I do feel like it is a true toss up game. I’ll be looking at live betting angle to try to get UCLA in game to get a solid middle if the Gaels get a decent lead. I truly think this game goes down to the final buzzer.
The pick: Saint Mary’s +2.5