Tip Off: 7:40 PM CT
Venue: Golden One Center – Sacramento, CA
Both of these teams rely on top 20 defenses (UCLA – 1st, NW- 18th) and like to play a slower tempo. In order to stick around, Northwestern is going to have to be able score against that top-ranked defense. The Wildcats does generate turnovers (31st), but UCLA rarely turns it over (22nd), so it’s going to be difficult to get much in transition.
On offense, it is crucial the Wildcats take care of the ball. They are usually really good in that area (12th in the country). But I can’t overstate how important making UCLA play in the half court on offense is. UCLA scores 1.39 points per possession in transition (18th), but just 0.97 points per possession in the half court (273rd)! No turnovers or only dead ball turnovers is huge.
The Bruins are missing Jaylen Clark, who is a big part of that top defensive ranking; he was actually named a Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Finalist. But he will miss the remainder of the season with an Achilles injury. UCLA has played just three games without Clark and they really haven’t faced a scoring backcourt like Northwestern has with Buie and Audige. Buie and Audige will likely have to carry the scoring load for the Wildcats., but that’s typical for Northwestern.
The other injury question for UCLA is Adem Bona. Bona has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, but has been practicing so I assume he is available.
On the defensive end for Northwestern, they’ll really want to limit offensive rebounds (UCLA ranks 28th in offensive rebound %). Mainly that will be Jaime Jacquez or Adem Bona/Kenneth Nwuba.
UCLA doesn’t take as many 3’s as most teams (Just 24.7% of their points come from 3’s, that ranks 333rd in the country). But when they do, there is one guy opponents need to worry about, David Singleton. He’s shooting the three at a scorching 43.2% this season and leads UCLA in 3-pointers attempted at 162!
Northwestern should be able to hang around given the slower pace, their low turnover percentage and UCLA’s low percentage of points from the three. But they’ll have to limit turnovers, offensive rebounds and make the right guys shoot for UCLA. They’ll have to rely on Audige and Buie for scoring, but with Jaylen Clark not opposing them, that seems like more doable path to an upset. A win would send Northwestern to their first ever Sweet 16!