Steve Alford, UCLA’s first-year men’s basketball coach, is new to the program. But he’s got some old business to deal with in Thursday’s NCAA Tournament game against Florida (8:45 p.m., KTVT/Ch. 11).
The Bruins (28-8), the No. 4 seed in the South Regional, meet Florida (34-2), the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, at the FedEx Forum in the latest renewal of a popular postseason matchup in recent years. It will mark the teams’ fourth meeting in the last nine NCAA tournaments.
UCLA lost the first three, including a 73-57 defeat in the 2006 national title game and a 76-66 loss at the 2007 Final Four. Florida, which went on to claim the 2007 championship, also knocked the Bruins out of the 2011 tournament with a 73-65 triumph in the round of 32.
Among the Gators’ starters are four seniors who were on the roster for that 2011 victory over UCLA. The list includes point guard Scottie Wilbekin, the 2014 SEC Player of the Year who played 16 minutes in that victory over the Bruins.
Wilbekin said the Gators’ recent run of success against UCLA should not be a factor in Thursday’s contest.
“I don’t think that matters at all,” Wilbekin said. “I don’t think any of their players from that game are still on the team. It’s not going to have any impact on this game.”
But the past Bruins’ failures have been a talking point for Alford with his team.
“It’s just one more challenge that we try to get over,” Alford said. “We know we’ve got a lot of challenges with Florida. So everybody might as well throw in the history, too.”
Although four of his starters (Wilbekin, Will Yeguete, Patric Young, Casey Prather) will be able to draw on personal memories of that 2011 victory over UCLA, Florida coach Billy Donovan said: “I’m not so sure what we would be able to take from those past games, past experiences. I know the letters across the jersey still say ‘UCLA.’ But for our team, everything’s different.”
Wilbekin (6-foot-2, 178 pounds) will be giving away 7 inches in height when playing man-to-man defense against UCLA point guard Kyle Anderson (6-9, 230), who also may spend time at forward in the contest.
Anderson, who averages 14.8 points per game, leads the Bruins in assists (6.5) and rebounds (8.7) in his multifaceted role. But he’s primarily the Bruins’ point guard, creating a size mismatch that has Wilbekin’s full attention.
“It’s going to be tough. He’s definitely a unique cover,” Wilbekin said. “We’re just going to try to keep him out of the lane, not let him get a step, because he has great length. If he gets a step on you, he can finish over and around you.”
John Miller, a retired high school basketball coach from Beaver County, Pa., will attend Thursday’s Dayton-Stanford game in Memphis but will be hustling to find a TV after the contest to watch the telecast of the Arizona-San Diego State game in Anaheim, Calif.
The elder Miller has two sons coaching Sweet 16 teams: Archie (Dayton) and Sean (Arizona). Archie Miller, the younger of the two college coaching brothers, said his father is excited but “a bit taken aback by the attention” he has received since his sons’ teams earned Sweet 16 berths.
“There’s a lot of emotion that goes on with that with our family,” Archie Miller said. “Sean and I really haven’t talked about the significance. I haven’t even talked to my father about significance. But everything that we do, whether it’s me or Sean, I’d have to say that he’s the main reason why we sit here today.”