Turner/CBS NCAA analyst Reggie Miller will be part on the broadcasting crew calling the Florida-UCLA game Thursday night. The game tips off at 9:45 p.m. ET on CBS. Miller spoke with the Sentinel about the Sweet 16 showdown and whether Florida is the team to beat in the NCAA Tournament.
Q: Is Florida the team to beat in the Sweet 16?
“Absolutely and that’s easy to say with their overall No. 1 seed, but I just look at their makeup and their roster. Number one: They’re well-coached in Billy The Kid. I’ve always been a huge fan of his demeanor and his approach towards the game. It helps that he’s a two-time winner and he understands the demands that it takes for these young men to go through and win this tournament. He’s been to the last three Elite Eights with some pretty talented teams and for whatever reason, has found a way to come up just short. But this team – on offense as well as defense – is so complete because of the seniors. And that’s what you really need in this tournament. You have to have senior or upperclassmen leadership and that’s what he has at both ends. They are the most complete team on the offensive end – they can score, they can shoot and they’re led by a point guard in Scottie Wilbekin, who really understands the game. But defensively, I really think they’re locked in.”
Q: What does UCLA have to do to beat the Gators?
“Number one, I’m putting the magic number at 13. And when I say 13 – UCLA only turns the ball over 10 times a game, but we know that Florida pressure is going to come – that full-court pressure. If UCLA has 13 or less turnovers, then they are going to be in the hunt to win the ball game. If they have 13 or more turnovers, that’s going to be an issue because from those turnovers leads to those 3’s from Wilbekin, [Michael] Frazier, and [Casey] Prather – those kind of guys. So they’ve got to keep their pressure down, I know their primary ball handler will probably be Kyle [Anderson], but you have freshman out there that kind of scares me in Zach [Lavine] and Bryce [Alford] and this is a big moment for freshman to be in so they’ve got to be able to take care of the ball. I know UCLA can score with them, but they’ve got to be able to get extra possessions and not by turning the basketball over.”
Q: How tough is it to face four starters with the senior experience like Florida has?
“It’s only tough because of the camaraderie that the seniors bring. They’ve played a lot of games together. A lot of these seniors were on those teams that lost in those three Elite Eights so these seniors are desperate. When you have a desperate team that has focused goals and that’s winning an NCAA Tournament, that can be challenging. But if I’m Coach [Steve] Alford and UCLA, I’m playing our best basketball right now and that’s really what you want.”
Q: How does Steve Alford’s experience benefit UCLA in this situation?
“It certainly helps to have a Coach Alford who’s won an NCAA Tournament at Indiana. So, obviously he’s going to rely on his experience that he can share with these kids. But Steve’s been through a lot of wars and he’s seen a lot of basketball so he’ll have his team prepared. They key to UCLA is they’re going to have to match the intensity and raise their level of intensity to Florida. …”
Q: Whether it’s Florida or UCLA, which team will be tougher to face – Dayton or Stanford?
“If I’m UCLA, if I’m Florida – I’m scared to face either or – I’m going to tell you why. One of those teams is playing for an Elite Eight spot with a chance to go to the Final Four. You can’t tell me that both of those teams are desperate? Stanford wasn’t even suppose to make the tournament. They were a bubble team. And Dayton – the Little Engine That Could – no one ever wants to play them. The upset Syracuse, they upset their in-state rival in Ohio State … You’re not going to tell me that they’re not desperate right now? If I’m one of these ‘big schools,’ I’m scared to play Stanford or Dayton. A 10- or 11-seed, that worries me. Especially with young kids, you have a tendency to overlook, ‘Oh, we’re just playing Stanford, a 10-seed’ or ‘Oh, we’re just playing Dayton, an 11-seed.’ No. No. No. No. They are there for a reason.”