Two seasons ago, the Gonzaga Bulldogs and UCLA Bruins locked horns in a Final Four game for the ages. Both of these programs are fully capable of getting to the Final Four game, but first they meet in the Sweet Sixteen and only the winner gets to move on. BetOnline patrons can see this at 9:45 PM ET at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, with CBS televising.
Gonzaga had an undefeated record going into that game in 2021, and they were able to take that clean slate into the championship game. But before they were able to meet Baylor (where they lost), they had to get past the Bruins, who had come into the main field through a play-in game against Michigan State. They took the game into overtime before losing 93-90. Drew Timme had 25 points in that one, and after scoring 28 against TCU he's now had nine games in which he's produced 20 or more points in NCAA Tournament play.
Timme will undoubtedly be a target for UCLA's defensive scheme. This is a classic matchup between the teams that are #1 in offensive efficiency (Gonzaga) and #2 in defensive efficiency (UCLA). However, the Bruins won't be operating at 100% full capacity. That's something worth exploring.
Mick Cronin has not gone to his reserves a lot (the team is 237th in bench minutes used), so injuries are more of a concern than usual. To start with, Jaylen Clark, the Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year, is out of action. Freshman center Adem Bona, who ranks 17th in the nation in shot-blocking percentage, is nursing a bad shoulder. And David Singleton, who contributes to that defensive effort but also has the team's best offensive rating, sprained ankle in the Bruins' previous game against Northwestern.
In the NCAA basketball betting odds posted on this game by the folks at BetOnline, it's a pick'em contest:
UCLA Bruins pick -110
Gonzaga Bulldogs pick -110
Over 145.5 Points -110
Under 145.5 Points -110
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Gonzaga's offensive credentials are impeccable. They are tops in effective field goal percentage, two-point percentage, are ninth best in three-point percentage (although they don't rely on it), and they have taken good care of the ball, ranking among the top dozen teams in turnover percentage.
They can run the floor or work with a lot of effectiveness in the halfcourt, with Timme, who's made 64.2% of his shots inside the arc, drawing a lot of attention.
But the 'Zags do not defend at a level that would promote the idea that they could roll to a national championship. They are, in fact, ranked 76th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to the analytics site KenPom. They are outside the nation's top 200 in defending two and three-point shots. So they are clearly going to have to exploit something in UCLA's defense.
It's probably safe to assume that the Bruins are not the same defensive team without the presence of Clark and with Bona not operating at full strength. That would be the opening for Gonzaga, which may need to get its shots off pretty quickly. Surely they offer some balance; aside from Timme there is sufficient threat coming by way of Julian Strawthwer (15.3 ppg) and Anton Watson (66.7% on two-pointers; six offensive rebounds vs. TCU). Then there is Malachi Smith, the Chattanooga transfer who's come flying off the bench this year to register a #10 spot in KenPom's individual offensive ratings.
So the 'Zags can come with some spark on the second unit. And we like the fact that if they have to, they can hit the triple. That's important to know, since they are over 38% as a team.
You get the feeling that against a team with the shot-making ability of Gonzaga, you've got to have all hands on deck, so we're too careful to make a UCLA recommendation. But it certainly isn't defense first with Gonzaga, leading us to move toward an OVER in what could again be a game requiring an extra session.
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