The Gonzaga Pac-12 Tour comes to an end on Saturday as the Bulldogs head to the fabled Pauley Pavilion to take on the UCLA Bruins. It has been a week long session of fun against a power conference after Gonzaga and will be the last major game of the non-conference schedule.
Gonzaga is coming off of a game against Washington State that is the perfect example of how dangerous the Bulldogs are. The Cougars had Kevin Pangos number and shut him down (thanks to foul trouble as well), but didn't shut down Byron Wesley, Przemek Karnowski or Kyle Wiltjer. Those three combined for 63 of Gonzaga's 81 points and the Bulldogs took home a 81-66 win over the Cougars.
UCLA has looked impressive at times this year and they've also looked a bit lost at times. The day after Arizona beat Gonzaga, UCLA squeaked by a seven-point win over the San Diego Toreros. On Wednesday, UCLA struggled against UC-Riverside, leading by just two points with five minutes left before finally pulling away.
There will be some extra motivation to do things right against Gonzaga for UCLA. After Gonzaga, UCLA plays Kentucky on a neutral court, at Alabama, at Colorado and at Utah before returning home. Yikes.
Meet the opponent
UCLA Bruins, 8-2, KenPom #38
The Bruins have a pretty stellar in/out combination between the backcourt of Bryce Alford, Norman Powell and the frontcourt of Kevon Looney and Toney Parker. Those four pretty much run the offense of the Bruins, and considering how often the Bruins score, they run it a lot. UCLA is one of the better scoring teams in the nation, but they realistically don't do much better offensively than Gonzaga.
UCLA has an eFG of 51.8 percent. Gonzaga's effective field goal percentage is at 56.9. Gonzaga is a better offensive rebounding team and turns the ball over less. The one area that UCLA wins out on is at the free throw line -- to a certain degree. The Bruins take more trips to the charity stripe than any team in the nation, but they have a tough time converting -- hitting just 66 percent as a team (good for No. 243 in the nation).
But they have strengths. Freshman forward Looney is averaging a double-double and is the best offensive rebounder in the game. He leads the nation in both total rebounds and in offensive rebounds. For reference, he has 112 total rebounds and 45 of those come on the offensive glass.
Powell is capable of taking over games (as seen in the UC-Riverside win) and is a dangerous scorer who has only been held to single digits in points once this season. He is also UCLA's most consistent threat from outside, hitting 46.3 percent of his threes. Expect to see Gary Bell blanketed on him in an attempt to slow him down -- a tall task in its own right.
Overall, UCLA is a very athletic team. On paper, their starting five matches up quite well with Gonzaga's. But that is it, once you hit the bench it is a very steep drop off for Steve Alford and company. That is why he has four different players averaging over 30 minutes per game this season. Alford knows this and tries to run teams off the court with the pace, but out of any team designed to keep up with that, it is Gonzaga. If Alford has to hit the bench for any extended period of time, things could get a bit ugly for UCLA.
The four factors
Let's make these previews even longer shall we? Real quick, let's introduce the four factors, which according to Dean Oliver and a lot of stat nerds are the most important keys to a team winning a basketball game. They are the effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TO%), offensive rebound percentage (OR%) and free throw rate (FTR). Here is further explanation of what it all means.
What to watch out for
Can Gonzaga's bigs stay out of foul trouble?
UCLA heads to the foul line a ton because they relentlessly attack the basket. According to Hoop-Math.com, Looney has made 56 of his 91 field goals at the rim and Tony Parkers has made 56 of 91 field goals from close. Wiltjer doesn't create much fear as a defender, but he also is smart with his fouls. Karnowski has gotten it under control forthe most part this season. The big one to watch will be Domantas Sabonis. Lately, Sabonis has found himself in foul trouble and it completely negates his contributions. If he can stay smart this game, the low bloc of Sabonis and Karnowski should pretty much cancel out any advantage UCLA was hoping for inside.
Can Gonzaga's defense hold off UCLA's offense?
By the advanced metrics, Arizona has a better offense than UCLA, so this shouldn't be much of a worry. But UCLA is a high volume offense of sort. It isn't the most efficient one out there, generally, but if the Bruins are clicking on all four cylinders, things will be hard for Gonzaga. As Washington State found out the hard way, Gonzaga can't focus on shutting down just one player because there are three to take his place. It'll take a team effort here to make it work. The Bulldogs need to stay long, clog the passing lanes, cover the open man and don't get bullied under the boards.
O Pangos, Pangos! Wherefore art thou Pangos?
Some people in the comments section have mentioned that Pangos' importance to the club has been overstated. I'm not sure how you overstate the importance of a senior point guard on a team that doesn't have much of a backup point guard in his place. If the Zags are to get out and run the ball with the Bruins in this one, they will need their floor general to show up to help pace the marathon.
Watch out for mentions of the game that shall not be mentioned.
It is going to happen. Keep the remote control handy at all times.
Time: 7 p.m. PT
Radio: AM 1510 KGA (Spokane), AM 880 KIXI (Seattle), AM 1360 KUIK (Portland)