NCAAB · Sat (4/3) @ 8:46pm ET
|Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN|
Our Pick: Gonzaga at -14.0 (-110). Place your bets at BetRivers
Five victories in 13 days. Anyone who foresaw this in UCLA’s March Madness future, after its season had ended in four consecutive defeats, deserves a medal or a crown.
It lost ballyhooed recruit Daishen Nix to the NBA G League before the season, had 6-foot-9 senior Chris Smith (knee) for only eight games, and Jalen Hill, a 6-10 junior, bolted for personal reasons after having played in 14 games.
Tuesday, it was a one-man gang—called super sophomore Johnny Juzang—in a 51-49 victory over Michigan to reach the program’s 18th Final Four.
And all Juzang did was re-tweak, for the third time in March, that tender right ankle. He left. He returned. He scored 28 points on 9-of-14 shooting, epitomizing this team’s incredible will and fortitude.
A heck of a story that now implodes as something wicked this way comes from the eastern side of Washington.
- Gonzaga -14 vs. UCLA, Total 145, Saturday, 8:34 pm ET
- Action: Gonzaga -14
The Bruins (22-9) own a college hoops-record 11 national championships, but only one has come in the past 45 years. Saturday, they will be rudely brushed aside by the new kids on the block who are not exactly the new kids on the block.
This is Gonzaga’s 22nd consecutive NCAA Tournament. It has advanced to one Final Four, in 2017, where it played in its first national-title game, a bruising defeat to North Carolina.
All of that has culminated into a mega-ball of steam that has been building since last season, when it lost only two of 33 games.
These 30-0 Zags have won all but one game this season by double figures. They’re all of a one-track mind, a grand mission, to become the game’s first undefeated team since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers.
Winning every NCAA Tournament game in the Hoosier State will be the coup de grâce of the season, and beating the game’s most-storied program in a national semifinal will just add to the luster of a scintillating campaign.
End Of UCLA Road
UCLA owns the game’s 13th-rated adjusted offensive efficiency, Gonzaga’s defense is fifth. The Bulldogs’ offense is first, the Bruins’ defense 45th, according to stats guru Ken Pomeroy’s impressive charts.
But as we’ve detailed, the Bruins are shorthanded, hobbling, and hurting. That only other player besides Juzang who hit double digits in points against the Wolverines shows their desperate situation.
That was Bob Marley-lookalike Tyger Campbell, a sophomore point guard who tallied 11 points, on 4-of-6 shooting, and recorded as many assists as turnovers, two apiece.
Junior forwards Cody Riley and Jules Bernard had two baskets apiece. That was it. UCLA received no other injection of offense. They have been tremendous in getting here, but this is where it all ends.
One Juzang Against Many
Juzang has scored 108 points in UCLA’s five tourney games, a stellar 21.6 average. He has shot 55.6% inside the arc, 12-for-34 beyond it. He has grabbed 18 rebounds, and he has more assists than turnovers (four to three).
Factor in the tender ankle, and he gets the NCAA’s Willis Reed award for 2021.
The issues for the Bruins, though, are many, and there are many Juzangs who will be wearing Gonzaga jerseys.
Drew Timme, the 6-10 sophomore forward from Richardson, Texas, has poured in 85 points in four NCAA games, hitting 32 of 50 shots inside the arc. He’s taken only two beyond it, missing both, displaying impeccable discipline.
He’s made 21 of 25 free throws, grabbed 30 rebounds, dished out 17 assists and only turned it over five times. Review, again, that part about him just being a sophomore. Two more seasons of dealing with him for Gonzaga foes?
Then there’s freshman point guard Jalen Suggs (58.8% shooter inside the arc), senior forward Corey Kispert (62.4% on 2-pointers, 45.3% beyond the 3-point line) and junior swingman Joel Ayayi (67.5% 2-point shooter, 38.5% on 3-pointers) to give UCLA coach Mick Cronin headaches by halftime.
But it shouldn’t be that way. What the Bruins have accomplished should be trumpeted and celebrated. They just happened to run into the blossoming dynamo from Spokane, Wash.
The two programs have played five times, and Gonzaga has a 3-2 edge, which includes a 74-62 victory in 2015 in a South Regional semifinal in Houston.
Two days later, the Zags lost to Duke, 66-53, in the South finale. That will be just one of many late-season losses that Gonzaga coach Mark Few and his players will use as fuel over their next 80 dynamic minutes of basketball.