Get ready for a long night, Zag fans. A 9 PM PT start on Thanksgiving Eve is pretty vicious but it couldn’t be a better matchup. The two storied programs in UCLA and Gonzaga have played each other four times in the last four seasons. Here are a few of the legendary moments over the years:
The fact that this is the 5th/6th place of the Maui Invitational just speaks to how truly stacked this field was. Hawaii has lived up to the expectations.
For Gonzaga, the Zags have been lighting up scoreboards this season at 87.0 PPG (18th in the nation) so continue to hit the ground running. Nembhard’s fast pace has made this offense a blast to watch. Just like they did against Syracuse, the Zags also have to use their toughness on the glass and willingness to put their body on line to their advantage. Their average of 47.5 RPG ranks 9th in the country.
As for UCLA, the Bruins lost five starters from last season and are still trying to see what their true offensive identity is. A lot of new and young talent have entered the bright spotlight that this household name brings with it. Aday Mara is a 7’3” unicorn but still very raw as an international recruit that is getting used to the American game. Dylan Andrews and Sebastian Mack bring a lot of optimism for this UCLA backcourt. Lazar Stefanovic (Utah transfer) is still trying to get comfortable in his new home of Westwood, California.
UCLA’s record -
3-1 (W vs Saint Francis, W vs Lafayette, W vs Long Island, L vs #4 Marquette, W vs Chaminade)
Key stats -
54.2 points allowed
KenPom rankings -
109.3 adjusted offensive efficiency (#68)
91.9 adjusted defensive efficiency (#14)
Key player to watch for -
Adem Bona (sophomore, forward): 15.8 PPG on 58.8 FG%, 7.0 RPG, 1.2 APG, 2.3 BPG
After his PAC-12 Freshman Player of he Year campaign, Bona’s role and responsibilities grew in his sophomore season. He’s accepted the challenge as he looks to be one of the top big men in the land.
Bona leads the charge for one of the premier defenses in the country to start this early season. His elite rim protection is the reason this team has been such a factor on that end of the floor.
He still plays both ends of the ball at a high level. As the leading scorer for the Bruins, Bona forces the issue of his scoring at the rim. And I mean, all of his scoring.
As good as UCLA’s defense has been, Gonzaga’s defense has been an underrated part of this team’s early performances. KenPom has the Zags nationally ranked at #11 in defensive efficiency. Continue on that path and the Zags should come out victorious.
With all that being said and knowing the deep history between these two rivals, this game should be coming down to the last shot. With the game on the line, who you want to have the ball in his hands? Who could be this season’s Julian Strawther? I want Nolan Hickman.
Arden Cravalho is a Gonzaga University graduate from the Bay Area... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho