Gonzaga is one step closer to being the first undefeated national title winning team since the 1974-75 Indiana Hoosiers. At 30-0, Gonzaga will square off with UCLA in the Final Four. Gonzaga has utterly dominated in the NCAA Tournament winning each game by an average of 24 points. While UCLA is the second First Four team to ever make the Final Four. Some keys to this Final Four clash includes limiting star players and limiting offensive possessions.
First off, if Gonzaga shoots the three well they should win this game. Gonzaga’s star forward Drew Timme averages 19 points per game. Timme has been unstoppable averaging 25 points in his last three games. Typically, Timme is the ‘Zags’ tallest player standing at 6-foot-10. Meanwhile, UCLA’s tallest starter is Cody Riley at 6-foot-9. Timme has a size advantage against UCLA, and if the Bulldogs shoot the three well this will spread the UCLA defense. By spreading the floor, the paint will open up giving Timme more room to operate. Also, if Gonzaga is knocking down threes Timme will see less double teams. If Gonzaga makes seven or more threes against UCLA, they will likely move on to the national title game.
Furthermore, Gonzaga must keep tabs on UCLA’s lead-scorer Johnny Juzang. Juzang averages 15.5 points this season, but has been on fire in the NCAA Tournament. Over UCLA’s five tournament games, Juzang is averaging 21.6 points. In addition, Juzang had a monster performance versus BYU in the Round of 64 scoring 27 points while shooting 62.5%. In the Elite Eight, Juzang torched Michigan’s defense with 28 points and shot 11/19. Clearly, Gonzaga must be weary of Juzang. He is capable of completely carrying UCLA’s offense. Against Michigan, Juzang scored over half of UCLA’s 51 points. Also, Juzang dominated the first half versus Michigan in the Elite Eight.
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Gonzaga needs to limit Juzang by sending double teams throughout the game. Effective traps can force star players into turnovers and can disrupt their rhythm.
For UCLA, they have to do everything in their power to limit Gonzaga’s possessions. Gonzaga is by far the country’s best offensive team leading in points per game and field goal percentage. The ‘Zags score 91.6 points per game while shooting 54.9%. UCLA needs to rarely turn the ball over and rebound well to limit Gonzaga’s offensive chances. In regards to turnovers, UCLA has been under 10 turnovers in every game during March Madness. Also, UCLA is 11th in the country averaging only 10.5 turnovers per game. UCLA fares well in the turnover department.
Further, UCLA has not rebounded well recently. UCLA was outrebounded in the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight. In the Sweet Sixteen, Alabama snatched four more rebounds than UCLA and had 15 offensive rebounds. In the Elite Eight, Michigan outrebounded UCLA by 10 and had 11 offensive rebounds. Meanwhile, Gonzaga has outrebounded each and every opponent in the NCAA Tournament. Against a tall and lengthy USC team, Gonzaga outrebounded the Trojans by 12 in the Elite Eight. The rebound battle will be a tall task against Gonzaga, but UCLA has to rebound. In addition, UCLA cannot allow numerous offensive rebounds. Allowing second chance points against the most potent offense in college basketball is the last thing UCLA wants to do.
Players to Watch
For Gonzaga, Corey Kispert is a First Team All-American averaging 18.9 points. However, Kispert has not scored over 18 points in his past three games. Kispert had 18 against USC in the Elite Eight, but shot only 31.6%. Also, Kispert only scored 12 in the Sweet Sixteen versus Creighton. On the other hand, Gonzaga still beat Creighton by 18 and USC by 19. If Kispert has a big game, Gonzaga could become even more terrifying.
In addition, Gonzaga’s talented freshman guard Jalen Suggs is coming off a 18 point, 10 rebound and 8 assist performance. Any near triple-double performance in college is impressive, but in the Elite Eight it is fantastic. Of course, the big man Timme is a key for Gonzaga as well. He has been on a tear in the NCAA Tournament.
For UCLA, Juzang is the obvious player to watch. As previously mentioned, Juzang has averaged over 20 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.
UCLA needs to find more offense outside of Juzang due to Gonzaga’s high-powered offense. First off, Tyger Campbell averages 10.2 points while shooting 42.5%. In the past two games, Campbell has averaged 12 points while shooting 55.6%. He will be one UCLA Bruin that is capable of stepping up. Also, Jules Bernard had a 16 and 17 point outing in the NCAA Tournament. Lastly, Jaime Jaquez Jr. had a 27 point performance in the First Four against Michigan State. In addition, Jaquez had 17 points versus Alabama in the Sweet Sixteen. Jaquez had several clutch buckets in overtime versus Alabama. Campbell, Bernard and Jaquez must help Juzang on the offensive end.
Mark Few has established a powerhouse at Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are now in their second Final Four in program history. UCLA, the historic program with 11 national titles, is in their first Final Four since 2008. Gonzaga is looking to make history and establish themselves as a possible new blue blood in the next 10-15 years, while UCLA is a traditional blue blood in college basketball. Clearly, this Final Four has irreplaceable value to both programs.
In the end, Gonzaga is not only an offensive squad as they are ranked fourth in defensive efficiency. They are capable of limiting Juzang. No one has been able to stop Gonzaga’s Timme, and it feels like a matter of time before Kispert erupts. Simply put, it feels like Gonzaga’s year to win their first national championship in the 2020-21 season. As 14 point underdogs, UCLA will need incredible offensive production and a gritty performance to pull off this historic upset. Catch the Final Four battle Saturday at 8:34 p.m. on CBS.
Prediction: 85-70 Gonzaga
All stats courtesy of ESPN, Kenpom and Team Rankings.