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Four Storylines That Could Determine Winner Of BYU/UCLA In NCAA Tournament

Mar 19, 2021, 10:50 PM
BYU Basketball - Mark Pope - NCAA Tournament...
BYU basketball head coach Mark Pope watches Alex Barcello in practice at the Indiana Convention Center. (BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)
(BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana – BYU versus UCLA meet in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1981 on Saturday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

After all the viral moments this week for BYU, it’s time to actually play a game.

A big opportunity for a BYU program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2015 and is looking for its first win in the round of 64 since Jimmer Fredette was in the program.

BYU/UCLA Storylines

Here are four storylines that could determine the winner of Saturday’s matchup between the Cougars and Bruins.

#1 Injured UCLA star Johnny Juzang 

Late in UCLA’s win against Michigan State in the First Four, Bruins shooting guard Johnny Juzang injured his ankle. Juzang was critical to the Bruins win, scoring 23 points. A transfer from Kentucky, Juzang was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection for his play this season in Westwood.

UCLA coach said on Friday that he is “hopeful” Juzang will be able to play against BYU.

Without him, BYU’s guards have a lot more room to roam and make plays potentially. BYU grad transfer Brandon Averette has been a big shot artist this season; he could be one of the big beneficiaries if Juzang is out or limited on Saturday night.

#2 Which BYU team shows up?

BYU has quietly pieced together a nice resume this season. The Cougars are in the top 25 nationally in shooting the three, in the top-15 in assists, and they are in the top 30 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Despite all of those impressive numbers, there have been games where BYU struggles to hit shots. Case in point, the semifinals of the West Coast Conference Tournament against Pepperdine earlier this month.

After a long layoff, BYU trailed practically the entire game against Pepperdine before forcing the contest into overtime and taking over from there. UCLA, like Pepperdine, has a game under their belt and has nothing to lose with a roster that is overachieving with some of the hits to their personnel.

If the BYU team that gave Gonzaga everything they could handle in the first half shows up, this could be a game where BYU runs away from UCLA. If the one comes out cold after a long layoff, a confident Bruins team is plenty capable of pulling off the upset.

#3 Mark Pope’s first NCAA game as head coach

During Pope’s press conference on Friday previewing the UCLA game, a Kentucky sports reporter hopped on the virtual presser and asked Pope if his experience as a National Champion player in 1996 can help his team this season. Pope responded, “I dunno guys.”

You never know what’s going to happen in these NCAA Tournament games. But especially for Mark Pope, who has never been a head coach in this setting. He would have had the experience last year until COVID-19 took that away from him and everyone else in college hoops.

How will he respond if the game is on the line late in the game? Will he make the right adjustments to put his team in the best spot to succeed? This is a topic because, on the other bench, Mick Cronin is in his 12th NCAA Tournament. He’s been around the block, and he just knocked off Mr. March in Tom Izzo. Big opportunity for Pope and his program.

#4 BYU/UCLA: Winning Plays

As we’ve seen through one day of action in the NCAA Tournament, these games are tightly contested as they always are in this tournament. The margin for error can be razor-thin. Which team in the BYU/UCLA matchup will come up with the 50-50 balls or make the right assignments on defense. Things that aren’t measured in a box score played a large role in NCAA Tournament games.

BYU is big on bringing “the fight” every night and to every game in their quest to get better each day. They will have to approach this and any game in this tournament with the fight necessary to come away victorious.

(11) UCLA vs. (6) BYU

2021 NCAA Tournament – First Round

Location: Indianapolis, Indiana

Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse

Tip: 7:40 p.m. (MT)

TV: CBS

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM)

Follow Mitch Harper and his NCAA Tournament 2021 coverage from Indianapolis with BYU and Utah State by following KSL Sports on InstagramTwitterFacebook, and the KSL Sports app.

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Four Storylines That Could Determine Winner Of BYU/UCLA In NCAA Tournament