Gonzaga, UCLA looking for No.1 in hotly anticipated showdown
LAS VEGAS – It’s commonly called a rematch, but that’s not correct, especially with three Gonzaga players who have moved to the NBA since the Zags’ epic 93-90 overtime win over UCLA in the Final Four from last season.
Call it what you want, but it’s fair to say that Tuesday’s mega game between No.1 Gonzaga and No.2 UCLA at T-Mobile Arena is as important as it gets, by ranking, for the competitions. out of college basketball conference this season.
And that means something since the Zags have already won then-No. 5 Texas and hold dates with the current No.5 Duke Friday in Las Vegas and No.10 Alabama on December 4 in Seattle. Meanwhile, second-ranked UCLA passed No.4 Villanova on November 12.
By Tuesday night, there should be a clear No.1 after what is believed to be the first No.1 AP vs. No. 2 contests involving two teams from the West, according to the AP poll archives.
“Our guys can’t wait to be there and hopefully we can take some of our Zag Nation and tread with us (in Las Vegas). I know it’s tough when it’s (the week of) Thanksgiving, ”Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Mick (Cronin, UCLA coach) and I worked really hard to put this in place. We realized we had to do things like this because of West Coast basketball and we will continue to do so in the future.
“We were able to make our way to this game with these high rankings, whether real or not, we’ll find out in February, but it should create an exciting atmosphere.”
The angle of the rematch probably hits the Bruins more, whose roster is remarkably similar to last season. UCLA sacked all five starters from last year’s game, but afterwards Cody Riley was sidelined with a knee injury.
Riley’s replacement is transfer Rutgers Myles Johnson, a 6-foot-10, 255-pound presence in the paint. The Bruins also added 6-8 wing Peyton Watson, a five-star rookie who was on Gonzaga’s recruiting radar.
UCLA’s top players remain the same as last April: goaltender Johnny Juzang, an NCAA tournament star, goalie / forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. and point guard Tyger Campbell. The trio totaled 65 points against Gonzaga in the domestic semifinals.
Gonzaga is led by National Player of the Year nominee Drew Timme, who scored a high of 25 points against the Bruins, and point guard Andrew Nembhard (11 points, eight assists). Junior forward Anton Watson played 10 minutes against UCLA.
The other four Zags to play in this April classic: Aaron Cook, who transferred to Georgia, and Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi collect NBA paychecks.
“After the tournament everyone heard about it,” Gonzaga freshman Chet Holmgren said of the UCLA stars. “They have about 1-4 scorers. They can all score basketball and they shoot the ball really well. They play with a lot of confidence. They know their identity. It’s up to us to figure out how to manage it.
UCLA were not strong in a 75-62 win over Bellarmine on Monday. The Zags roughed up Bellarmine 92-50 on Friday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“When you don’t come into the game with the right attitude, it shows up in missed layups, shots that you normally don’t miss. It shows in your defense, the missed layups, the missed free throws, ”Cronin said. “We have to do a little soul-searching or we’ll go on a cruise with a serious injury (against Gonzaga).”
The Bruins staggered into March Madness last season as an 11-seeded and had a memorable run with five straight wins to reach the Final Four.
“To Mick’s credit, they used this as a stepping stone,” Few said. “They play really confident, much like they played in the NCAA tournament. Once they got through the state of Michigan (in the top four), they really found their identity. It’s gonna be a handful.
The operator of the instrument panel plans to keep busy with two powerful infractions on the ground. UCLA shoots almost 50% from the field, including 42.4% from distance, and is averaging 94.8 points. Gonzaga is averaging 89.8 points and succeeding 55% of his shots.
“They are playing faster than in the past. They really push things up and they’re not afraid to take 3 shots, ”said Few. “Mick did a phenomenal job with them. Even though the offense is obvious, you can still see that Cincinnati tenacity he instilled in them on the defensive end.