Gonzaga beat UCLA comfortably tonight, 87-74. Although the Zags weren't particularly dominating and the slowish pace helped keep the margin down, they won most of the matchups including a torching of Looney and Powell. Gonzaga shot 58% to UCLA's 42%, and had 20 assists to the Bruins' 11 showing patience, ball control and unselfishness. UCLA showed some late desperation intensity, and managed to play the second half almost even up. Gonzaga won the second half 49-47 but the Zags were relaxed the whole way.
The Gonzaga bigs, Wiltjer, Karnowski and Sabonis, and UCLA's dismal shooting were the story of the first half. Gonzaga went straight at Looney to start the game, perhaps trying to get him into foul trouble and end the game early. Although Looney did not have a foul, Wiltjer (9) and Sabonis (4) scored 13 of Gonzaga's first 17 points - on Looney. Gonzaga led 17-10 at 15:59.
When the Bruins switched to zone, Gonzaga lit it up from the perimeter uncontested.
ESPN smelled blood before the game started as the entire pre-game was about Gonzaga, and they even showed a Southern Cal commercial during the third TV timeout.
UCLA came out trying to play a Hi-Lo game with Looney at the elbow or top of the key, and Parker crossing into the lane. It looked promising as Parker switched with Looney on the second possession causing Gonzaga to lose Looney while Parker found him wide open underneath. Parker scored underneath two possessions later.
But that was about it. What followed was a serious of clumsy plays including three consecutive bobbles by Parker and Looney.
Looney looked to redeem himself from the outside, and three jumpers from near the elbow got the Bruins within 8 at the 8:00 TV timeout.
Gonzaga stretched it back to 12 when Welsh, Allen and Golomon were on the floor together. Alford brought the starters back and the teams exchanged baskets, but Gonzaga finished the half up 11, 38-27.
Except for the difference in FG%, 59% to 32% and assists 13-5 in favor of Gonzaga, the game looked close statistically. Rebounds were 17-17 and TO's 8-9. Wiltjer led Gonzaga with 14 points, while Looney led the Bruins with 9.
The Bruins got the lead down to 7 (as close as it would be) at the start of the second half, but immediately allowed Gonzaga to go on an 8-0 run including five points by Kevin Pangos with Bryce Alford covering him. That pretty much sealed the Bruins' fate. Hot shooting by Bryce, hustle by Kevon and a suddenly scoring Hamilton kept the Bruins hanging around, but they would never get closer than seven again.
Gonzaga's bigs combined for 44 points compared to 21 for Looney, Parker and Welsh. Gonzaga's bench outscored UCLA's 15-2. Kentucky transfer Wiltjer led all scorers with 24 and Southern Cal transfer Wesley had 20. Bryce Alford led UCLA with 23 followed by Isaac Hamilton with 18 and Kevon Looney with 14.
Looney failed to get a double-double. He had 8 rebounds and Parker had 9. Although Gonzaga won the board battle 34-30, 15 of those came from Wesley and Dranginis mainly from long rebounds. UCLA actually had 13 offensive rebounds to Gonzaga's 7 -- if you are looking for any possible silver lining.
My takeaways and observations:
- The Bruin defense was completely soft. In man, Gonzaga tore up Looney and Parker and in zone, the Bruin perimeter was completely lost. Of the four starters, only Hamilton, though with an easier assignment on Bell, seem to know where to be and helped out in double-teams.
- Powell did not contain Wesley. This was a surprisingly difficult matchup. Norman is often chasing the other open players and perhaps still thinks of himself as the first offensive option, but I haven't seen lock-down defense from Powell this season.
- It's disturbing to see both Looney and Parker lose the ball so much to bobbles, blocks and little swatting-hands around their ankles. UCR started it, and Gonzaga followed up by shutting down Parker altogether and Looney, in part, in the first half. MickeyD Welsh was helpless against Gonzaga's relatively immobile, but tall bigs.
- Although the Bruins didn't have an overwhelming number of turnovers, 12, the perimeter handle is extremely shaky. It's hard to watch Bryce, Isaac and even Norman bobble the ball so much, over-penetrate and throw errant passes that were saved out of position by their Bruin teammates.
- The slow pace helped keep the Bruins in it. I know Alford will never do it, but what other choice would there be against Kentucky and the other top teams?