Having beaten Alabama in overtime, the UCLA Bruins now move on to the East Regional Final against the Michigan Wolverines at Lucas Oil Stadium tonight at 6:57 pm PT. If UCLA can win tonight, the Bruins will move on to face the winner of Gonzaga vs. Southern Cal. Can you imagine a UCLA-Southern Cal game for the right to play for the national championship next Monday? That would be amazing!
But, to get to the Final Four, UCLA must first beat the Wolverines tonight, and tonight’s game is going to be tough. Bill Walton may have been right when he called the Big Ten a “truck stop league,” but the Bruins will need to prove it again by beating Michigan.
Michigan got to tonight’s game by winning the Big Ten regular season title. The Wolverines lost to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament Semis and have beated Texas Southern, LSU and Florida State in the NCAA Tournament. It’s worth nothing that they also lost their regular season finale to Michigan State, 70-64. So, there’s that.
Michigan will look to get the rock inside to freshman center Hunter Dickinson. It’s what Coach Juwan Howard likes his team to do. Cody Riley is going to have his hands full inside. But, if the Bruins can force bad passes by the Wolverines and turn the ball over, the sky will be the limit tonight.
Speaking of Dickinson, let’s look at Coach Howard’s starting five.
Michigan’s hopes rest in the hands of Dickinson. He leads the Wolverines in scoring with 14.2 points per game while also averaging 7.6 rebounds per game. He also leads the team in turnovers and blocks. Really, about the only thing Michigan doesn’t ask their big man to do is shoot three-pointers. He hasn’t made one all season.
Another important piece of Michigan’s team is Franz Wagner. The sophomore from Berlin is averaging 12.8 ppg and is second on the team with 6.5 rpg. With Dickinson, these two form a gruesome twosome for opposing teams.
The good news for the Bruins is that Michigan looks like they will be without one of their team leaders. If Dickinson provides the thunder, guard Isaiah Livers provides the lightning via his senior leadership. Livers is second on the team in points per game with an average of 13.1. Livers is also the team’s best three-point threat. Not only does he lead the team in attempts, he also leads them in three-point percentage whie also being third on the team in boards with an average of 6.0 per game. In other words, if Dickinson is off, Michigan can still go outside and win, except for the fact that he hasn’t played in the NCAA Tournament.
In Livers’ place look for Brandon Johns, Jr. to get the start. Johns has been averaging 9.2 ppg over the past five games. Compared to Livers, he’s an awful three-point shooter with a 17.8% three-point shooting percentage over the past five games.
The Wolverines clearly don’t have someone who can sufficiently replace Livers, but his production has been made up for by the other two Michigan starters. That would be senior co-captain Eli Brooks and graduate transfer Mike Smith. Brooks has been averaging almost four points more per game, with 13.2 ppg, over the last five games than he did for the entire season, which was just 9.5. Brooks has also compensated for the loss of Livers’ long-range shooting by making 48.3% of his three-point attempts. He’s also taking the most attempts which really lets him make up for Livers and then some since Livers wasn’t even shooting threes at that rate during the regular season.
Meanwhile, Smith, who came to Michigan from Columbia, is averaging 2.5 ppg more over the last five games than he averaged for the whole season, 11.8 to 9.3. That’s one way to adjust for losing your second best player.
It’s easy to see why Michigan is the favorite in this game. Howard has taken the three-head monster of Dickinson, Livers and Wagner and, somehow, turned it into a four-headed monster in Dickinson, Wagner, Brooks and Smith.
The Bruins are going to have their hands full tonight. And, while I’m tempted to say that it’s going to be almost impossible for UCLA to win tonight, this team has shown unbelievable heart since landing in Indianapolis and you just can’t count them out yet. But, even if they aren’t successful tonight, this sure has been a heck of a ride all month long.
The TuneIn player won’t embed here on Substack, but you can open another tab to listen. Today’s game is on TBS with Brian Anderson, Jim Jackson and Allie LaForce calling the game. If you would prefer to listen to Josh Lewin and Tracy Murray call today’s game instead you can listen to today’s game online.
Join your fellow Bruin fans discussing today’s game below.This is your UCLA Bruins vs. Michigan Wolverines NCAA Regional Final game thread.
Teams: UCLA Bruins (21-9) vs. Michigan Wolverines (23-4)
Series Record: UCLA leads, 12-4
When: 6:57 pm PT, Tuesday, March 30, 2021
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
TV: TBS with Brian Anderson, Jim Jackson and Allie LaForce
Live Stream: NCAA.com and the March Madness app
Radio/Audio:AM 870 in Los Angeles with Josh Lewin and Tracy MurraySatellite Radio: Sirius Ch. 138 and XM Ch. 210 (National feed)And, of course, here in The Mighty Bruin Game Thread!
Live Stats: NCAA March Madness
Thanks again for supporting The Mighty Bruin. Your paid subscriptions make this site possible. Questions, comments, story ideas, angry missives and more can be sent to to @TheMightyBruin on Twitter.