Michigan basketball: 3 keys for beating UCLA and advancing to Final Four
Michigan will be looking for its third trip to the Final Four since 2013 when it tips against UCLA late tonight in Indianapolis.
The game, the last of the Elite Eight, pits the East Region’s top-seed Wolverines against the 11-seed Bruins, who are here after starting their tournament run in the First Four.
Following are 3 keys for Michigan if it’s to win.
Hit the 3
The Wolverines haven’t lived and died by the 3-pointer all season — they made only 3 in their Sweet 16 victory against Florida State — but they could give themselves a boost by shooting well tonightl.
And they might be able to against a Bruins’ team that, at least before the tournament, wasn’t great at defending on the perimeter. There, they allowed opponents to hit nearly 38% of their tries, only the 10th-best percentage in the Pac-12. Yet UCLA has been much improved in the NCAA Tournament, a reason why they’ve made the march to the brink of the Final Four. UCLA allowed Alabama to hit only 7-of-28 in the Bruins’ win in the East Region semifinals.
Michigan could be the team that busts up UCLA’s defensive hot streak. The Bruins will have a tough matchup in trying to contain UM freshman center Hunter Dickinson, who is better and more versatile than any post they’ve faced in the tourney. If he has room to operate inside, scoring in the lane — Michigan had 50 points in the paints vs. FSU — and finding open shooters, then it could turn into a long night for the underdogs. Dickinson has plenty of teammates who can hit on the perimeter, even with Isaiah Livers out, with five who have hit at least 30 triples this season.
Perhaps Eli Brooks, who had a quiet evening offensively against the Seminoles, breaks out tonight.
The Bruins’ guards can harass opponents into mistakes and turn defensive stops quickly into points on the other end.
They did it several times in the overtime victory over the Crimson Tide, including the backbreaking Tyger Campbell steal and layup in the extra period. UCLA turned Alabama over 14 times, including 5 by Jaden Shackelford, the Tide’s leading-scorer who had been averaging only about 1.5 turnovers per game.
Campbell’s 31 steals this season aren’t even the most among the Bruins; teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. has 35, but the duo along with Johnny Juzang (19 steals) make for a backcourt that is solid at creating difficulties for the opponent.
UCLA also got extra chances vs. Alabama on the glass, where it turned 15 offensive boards into 11 second-chance points. The Wolverines, with Dickinson, Franz Wagner and new starter Brandon Johns, shouldn’t have the same challenges as Alabama on the glass — UM is plus-6.3 on the glass this season — but they need to be aware of the Bruins’ recent board work.
The Bruins are riding the confidence of their tournament success, having been underdogs in all but one of their four games.
The win over the Crimson Tide, in what was probably the most exciting game of the tournament so far, was thrilling, with the Bruins holding off elimination in regulation then blitzing Alabama in overtime.
Michigan would go a long way toward a return to the Final Four if it could stymy UCLA’s momentum early, take an early lead and force the Bruins to play from behind. It’s had to do that only against Michigan State in the First Four, when it rallied from down 11 at halftime then won in overtime.