Games galore as Gators confront Demons and Gophers go digging for upset


Elisabeth Dillon

Freshman Shabazz Muhammad drives to the basket against Texas. Muhammad, who is averaging 17.8 points per game this season, will lead his UCLA Bruins team into the Erwin Center for their second round matchup with Minnesota on Friday.

Nick Cremona

Game 1- (2) Miami vs. (15) Pacific, 1:10 p.m. TV: TNT

Miami finished its season as the No. 5 team in the nation after winning the ACC regular season and conference tournament titles. Sophomore point guard Shane Larkin is leading the Hurricanes in scoring at 14.6 points per game and is coming off three consecutive 20-point games. The Hurricanes (27-6, 15-3) average just under 11 turnovers per game and, under the guidance of Larkin, have positioned themselves among the nation’s most efficient teams. Pacific (22-12, 13-5), on the other hand, has won seven straight games dating back to Feb. 28 and represents the much smaller Big West Conference. The Tigers have only one player who averages double-digit points per game, but as a team they distribute the ball very well and consistently find space to knock down open shots. Senior guard Colin Beatty is shooting 48.1 percent from three-point range for Pacific. The Tigers don’t rebound the ball exceptionally well and will likely be overmatched by an experienced Miami team that has its sights set on a long tournament run.

Game 2- (7) Illinois vs. (10) Colorado, 3:40 p.m. TV: TNT

Illinois lost four of its last six games, but all of those losses came to teams ranked in the Top 15. The Illini (22-12, 8-10) have knocked off several tournament teams this year, including No. 1 Indiana, Gonzaga and Ohio State. The Buffaloes (21-11, 10-8) also lost three of their last six games and are led in scoring and rebounding by Andre Roberson, a 6-foot-7 junior forward from San Antonio. Roberson averages 10.9 points and 11.3 rebounds per game and has had two games this season in which he grabbed 20 rebounds. Illinois is ranked 218th in the nation in rebounds per game at 33.5. If Roberson can pull down missed shots and convert them into points for his team, the Buffaloes could be on their way to playing the winner of the Miami/Pacific game in the third-round matchup on Sunday.

Game 3- (3) Florida vs. (14) Northwestern State, 6:27 p.m. TV: truTV 

Northwestern State leads the country in scoring, averaging 81 points per game, but the Demons (23-8, 15-3) have not fared well against bigger schools so far this season. Junior forward DeQuan Hicks has made 58.6 percent of his shots for the Demons and leads the team with 14.1 points per game. The Demons have scored 100 or more points five times this year and will be up against one of the nation’s toughest defensive teams in Florida. Opponents are making just 37.7 percent of their field goals against the Gators (26-7, 14-4). The Gators have made the NCAA Tournament in each of the past four seasons, including this one, and last year were knocked out in the Elite Eight by Louisville. Senior guard Kenny Boynton has played more than 1,000 minutes for the Gators this year and is the glue that keeps this team together. The Gators were upset by Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament finals and will be eager to prove they’re a serious title contender.

Game 4- (6) UCLA vs. (11) Minnesota, 8:57 p.m. TV: truTV

UCLA was ousted by Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament championship game last week, but have been playing well behind the resurgent play of freshman Shabazz Muhammad, who is averaging 17.8 points per game. The Bruins (25-9, 13-5) have been forcing their opponents into turnovers and are moving the ball with ease on offense. Senior point guard Larry Drew II has averaged 7.4 assists per game this year. Minnesota (20-12, 8-10) lost seven of its last 10 games, although two wins came against ranked opponents. The Gophers are led by a pair of Hollinses, that is Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins, who share the same last name but are not related. Andre Hollins is the Gophers’ leading scorer at 13.9 points per game and dropped 41 points in a game against No. 19 Memphis earlier this season. UCLA is the more skilled of the two teams, but if Minnesota can keep the game close, it stands a chance at pulling off an upset in the Friday nightcap.