(AP) – The UCLA Bruins will be looking for the gas pedal, whether they have the basketball or not.
Third seed UCLA (24-8) faces No. 14 seed Hawaii on Saturday in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The winner will face the winner between sixth-seeded South Florida (23-9) and No. 11 seed Colorado State (31-1) on Monday in the sub-regionals at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
”It all starts on the defensive end,” said UCLA senior Nirra Fields. ”When we get stops, and we get into transition, that’s our strength. I think that builds a lot of our offense.”
The Bruins, third-place finishers in the Pac-12, were 20-2 this season when scoring 70 points or more. The Rainbow Wahine (21-10) won 11 of their last 12 games, including the Big West Tournament, by holding opponents to 53.5 points per game. Something has to give.
”I think they would rather have it more methodical, have us go deep into the shot clock, for them to control tempo,” said UCLA coach Cori Close. ”Definitely, we have contrasting styles, and whoever is able to impose their will of their style will probably have an easier game.”
The only two games since December that Hawaii has allowed an opponent 70 points, they lost. However, the Rainbow Wahine don’t fear a fast-paced game.
”We know what UCLA can do on makes and misses,” said Hawaii coach Laura Beeman. ”They have one of the best point guards in the country in Jordin Canada. I’m not going to say a running game is a disadvantage (for Hawaii), but it has to be done smartly by us. We can’t take quick shots. We can’t turn the ball over. We are also a very, very good running team with a lot of depth, so we’re not afraid to put the ball on the floor and push our team. We just have to do it smartly.”
When asked how the Bruins stay uptempo against Hawaii, Close pointed to UCLA’s series against Arizona State, a team that beat UCLA 65-61 in their first meeting only to see the Bruins prevail 74-61 in the rematch.
”What we learned from the first time we played them versus the second time we played them, and how we were able to get the tempo back into our favor,” said Close. ”To the extent that we’re able to control tempo is to the extent to which we play our defense.”
UCLA (25.9 percent) and Hawaii (26.7) are two of the top-10 teams in the tournament defending the 3-point line.