UCLA played their usual brand of smothering defense in a win over North Carolina Asheville in the first round. It’s no surprise that they bottled up a mid-race program to kick off March Madness. However, the real test begins against Northwestern. The Wildcats scored 75 points in a first round win against Boise Stateand they have legitimate firepower from the backcourt.
With Jaylen Clark out for the Bruins, it will be interesting to see how UCLA’s defense deals with better competition. Clark was one of the best defensemen in college basketball and had the ability to block smaller forwards and guards. Without him, the Bruins don’t have the same defensive versatility. He was also a reliable offensive third option.
Without Clark in the fold, the Bruins will have a harder time defending Northwestern’s Boo Buie, Chase Audige and Ty Berry, who combined for 55 points against Boise State. UCLA has defensive perimeter options, but Northwestern is full of contributors and the fact that the Bruins are down isn’t ideal.
Northwestern is 8-1 against the spread when playing on the road this season. The Wildcats won’t be too uncomfortable in this neutral-court environment, and some of their gunners might accept the situation. Buie is capable of swinging a tournament game with his ability to score.
UCLA has Jaime Jaquez Jr. to lean on, and his ability to execute in the mid post area is a valuable security blanket for the Bruins. That’s something coach Mick Cronin can always count on, and Northwestern really doesn’t have big men who can guard him, or tire him out on the other end of the floor. Jáquez’s ability to score inside the three-point line could make all the difference. Both teams like to play slow, but UCLA is better at executing in the half court thanks to Jaquez’s patience.
Perhaps the Bruins’ ability to win tough games will force Northwestern coach Chris Collins to open things up more. Northwestern could go for 3-pointers and hope for the best. It’s better that they do something like that than play to UCLA’s strengths. However, bettors set a low total in this case, so a perimeter shooting strategy might not be realistic.
How to watch UCLA vs. Northwestern
When: Saturday, 5:40 p.m. PDT
Television / Streaming: T.N.T. / marchmadness.com; Paramount+
Odds for UCLA vs. Northwestern
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