NCAA Tournament, South Region
Round of 64: No. 4 UCLA (27-8) vs. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin (32-2)
When: Sunday, 4:10 p.m. PT, Viejas Arena (San Diego State)
TV: TBS (Andrew Catalon, Mike Gminski, Otis Livingston)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)
STEPHEN F. AUSTIN LUMBERJACKS
RPI/Pomeroy ranking: 52 / 44
Best wins: Friday night’s 77-75 overtime upset of Virginia Commonwealth, by far. VCU — which had a No. 13 RPI — was only Stephen F. Austin’s second top-100 RPI opponent this season, and probably deserved to win until it fouled on a 3-point attempt while up four points. A 29-win streak usually requires some breaks, and the Lumberjacks benefited from the Rams’ bone-headed play.
Besides that, SFA’s Southland Conference schedule didn’t really offer anyone of note. Its 10-point win over Towson (RPI 100) in December would be the next bullet point on the resume.
Worst losses: Only two to choose from, so it’d have to be the 66-58 loss to East Tennessee State over the 72-62 loss to Texas. Stephen F. Austin only made 4-of-23 from beyond the arc against the Buccaneers, its worst mark of the season, but hasn’t lost a game since that Nov. 23 matchup.
East Tennessee State eventually went 19-16, and ended the season with an 83-77 loss to Towson in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
Close calls: Squeaked past Incarnate Word (RPI on Feb. 1 with a 76-74 victory. Needed overtime to survive Marshall (RPI 276), a win that was sandwiched between SFA’s two lone losses this season.
Key numbers: Stephen F. Austin is a much better matchup for UCLA than No. 5-seed VCU’s “HAVOC” defense would have been, but the Lumberjacks aren’t slouches either on that end of the floor. While it doesn’t pressure as relentlessly as the Rams do, they force turnovers on almost quarter of opposing possessions — ranking fourth in the country at 24.1 percent. The Bruins take care of the ball very well (17th in the country with a 14.9 TO%), however, so could negate that edge as long as they play their usual game.
UCLA’s major edge is size. SFA doesn’t have a starter that stands above 6-foot-6, though the Lumberjacks’ effort and discipline has helped make them the 11th-best offensive rebounding team in Division I. Kyle Anderson will be a matchup nightmare as long as he takes care of the ball, and either one of the Wear twins should easily spot up for open shots.
Stephen F. Austin also isn’t exceptional in the area that usually gives the Bruins’ the most trouble: the 3-point line. UCLA has allowed long-range attempts at a higher rate than all but three other teams — Coastal Carolina, Idaho State, Southern Miss — but SFA only shoots 34.9 percent from beyond the arc. Leading scorer Jacob Parker shoots 48.9 percent, but has only taken 47 on the season.
The Bruins are favored by nine points, according to Bovada.lv. They could easily stretch out a much bigger lead if they can establish their preferred pace. The Lumberjacks rank 312th in adjusted tempo, making them UCLA’s second-slowest opponent yet. If the latter can generate fast breaks, look for another big game from San Diego native Norman Powell.
The junior has 52 points in his last three games; over that stretch, he’s 16-of-20 from the field as well as 18-of-21 from the line. He’s looked particularly devastating when he gets out in the open court, entering the NCAA tournament as the field’s 10th-most efficient transition finisher (1.342 points per possession).
UCLA forward Tony Parker describes that a little more vividly: “He’s a freight train.”
Stephen F. Austin starting lineup:
F – Jacob Parker, Jr., 6-6: 14.4 pts, 7.0 reb, 1.4 stl
F – Nikola Gajic, Sr., 6-5, 200: 9.6 pts, 4.9 reb, 1.4 stl
G – Thomas Walkup, So., 6-4, 195: 12.9 pts, 5.1 reb, 56.7 FG%
G – Desmond Haymon, Sr., 6-3, 190: 14.4 pts, 3.8 reb, 2.9 ast
G – Trey Pinkney, So., 5-9, 160: 3.1 pts, 2.0 reb, 3.5 ast
Key reserves –
G – Deshaunt Walker, Sr., 6-0, 170: 11.8 pts, 1.2 ast, 36.6 3P%
F – Tanner Clayton, Jr., 6-9, 210: 3.0 pts, 3.4 reb, 1.4 blk