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Gonzaga vs. UCLA Preview: Beware the Flying J’s

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The Bulldogs face an underdog in the Final Four

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Mykal McEldowney via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Just as Gonzaga faced a fellow West Coast foe in the Elite Eight, they will face another in the Final Four. The Zags will take on UCLA on Saturday night, facing the Bruins in the tournament for the second time since 2006 (sorry). The two teams have faced very different roads to get to this point; this being the 19th Final Four in UCLA’s program history belies their status as a major underdog. The last time these two teams faced off in any capacity was March 27, 2015 in the NCAA Tournament, where the Zags came out with a 74-62 victory.

Date: Saturday, April 3

Time: 5:34 p.m. PT

TV: CBS

Online: NCAA March Madness Live

Location: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

Odds: Gonzaga -14, according to WynnBet

Meet the Opponent

UCLA Bruins, 22-9, KenPom #15

The Bruins come into the national semifinals with the hardest tournament path of the four teams. They are just the second team to go from the First Four to the Final Four, and the first since VCU in 2011. They took down BYU in the first round, and beat both No. 2 seed Alabama and No. 1 seed Michigan to advance out of the East region. The Bruins play a gritty, defense-oriented style of basketball championed by coach Mick Cronin, and are led offensively by Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang (15.4 ppg).

What to Watch For

Battle of the backcourts

We all know how good Gonzaga’s guards are on both sides of the ball, with Suggs, Nembhard, Ayayi, and Cook. UCLA also has a strong backcourt, and they rely on their quartet of guards for most of the scoring. Juzang, Jaime Jaquez (12.1 ppg), Jules Bernard (10.5 ppg), and Tyger Campbell (10.2 ppg, 5.3 apg) account for over 60% of the Bruins’ scoring. If UCLA is going to pull off the upset, they will need big games from their guards.

UCLA’s interior play

What the Bruins have in guards, they lack in forwards and centers. Cody Riley is the primary frontcourt option both offensively and defensively for UCLA, but their depth after him is concerning. The Bruins are missing Jalen Hill, who left the team midway through the season for personal reasons. Reserves Kenneth Nwuba and Mac Etienne have been forced into more playing time, and 6-6 Jake Kyman has been forced to guard bigger players. None of UCLA’s big men have the size that USC presented, so it could potentially be a field day for Drew Timme and the Zags in the paint, especially if Riley gets into foul trouble.

Controlling the tempo and style of play

Mick Cronin’s squad has become known for their slow paced, grind-it-out style of play. This style helped the Bruins defeat Michigan by a score of 51-49 in the Elite Eight, and will be a key for them if they want to hang with the Zags. The pace with which Gonzaga plays is well known, and is definitely in contrast to what UCLA brings. While a lot needs to go right for the Bruins if they want to advance, controlling the pace of play will be huge for them if they even want to hang around in this game.