From practically the beginning, it has seemed such a gargantuan task to beat the Gonzaga Bulldogs, and that is understandable, since they possess so much talent. But very few times in the history of college basketball has a team run through its opposition with such ease as the ‘Zags have done. Consider that in their thirty victories, only one opponent – West Virginia – has come within single digits.
And as we have stressed before, even prior to the NCAA Tournament, this Gonzaga crew – a wrecking crew, if you will – has not been facing off against pansies. They have beaten the likes of Kansas, Iowa, Virginia and BYU during the regular season, refusing to let any of them encroach upon their game.
That's why there is little argument over whether the ‘Zags should be favored by double digits against the UCLA Bruins in the national semi-final game, which will get underway at 8:35 PM ET at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
No cable nonsense here – this is CBS taking us the rest of the way. And while you're watching the game, you can click on the tab that says “Live Betting” at the top of the sportsbook interface for real-time wagering at BetOnline. Placing bets during the game itself is quite a thrill. But be sure to stop off before the opening tip and partake in all the props they have available.
The question before us is – while it might be too much to ask for the straight-up win, what will UCLA have to do to come away with at least a cover in this game?
Here we go…..
NCAA Tournament – Final Four @ Indianapolis
GONZAGA BULLDOGS vs. UCLA BRUINS, 8:30 PM ET (CBS)
Final Four Betting Odds: Gonzaga -14 (-115) / Total 145
(1) ACHIEVE MORE SCORING BALANCE — It was absolutely terrific that Johnny Juzang, the Kentucky transfer who has really emerged in this tournament, was able to score 28 of UCLA's 51 points in the Elite Eight game against Michigan. But that isn't likely going to cut it here. Gonzaga's defensive game plan will start with getting the ball out of his hands. And it's not as if the ‘Zags are lacking on the defensive end – they are actually fifth in the nation in the “Adjusted Defensive Efficiency” category – and they can put on some nice pressure in the halfcourt setting. UCLA's mentality can't be that they are going to rely on Juzang and then worry about Plan B later.
(2) PENETRATE AND KICK OUT — Remember that with the Bruins, you've got two shooters – Jaime Jaquez and Jules Bernard – who are very close to 40% from three-point range. You absolutely have to make Gonzaga worry about them – a lot. For that to happen, their ball-handlers have to be able to penetrate the middle and then find someone out on the wing or in the corner to dish it off to, preferably those two shooters.
(3) TAKE CARE OF THE BALL — This shouldn't really be a major concern. UCLA came into this tournament as one of the better teams when it came to turnovers. And Tyger Campbell has been at a 3-to-1 ratio of assists to turnovers over his last dozen games. Gonzaga is not the kind of team that is going to do the full-court press anyway. But the other members of this UCLA rotation have to be wide awake, because if they cough it up, it's almost guaranteed that you are looking at a transition basket on the other end of the floor.
(4) HIT THE OFFENSIVE GLASS — Gonzaga is one of the top 20 teams in the nation when it comes to protecting its defensive boards. And when this team is able to rebound a miss, that's what gets the transition game started. In turn, that is what speeds up the pace of the game and creates insurmountable margins. Without two big men (Chris Smith and Jalen Hill) who were part of their rotation, UCLA has to turn this into more of a “hustle” thing than a “muscle” thing.
(5) COLLAPSE ON DEFENSE — With Gonzaga, you have to “pick your poison.” But the ‘Zags lean much more toward two-point shots than triples. And they are better than anyone inside the arc (a sizzling 63.7%). So if I were UCLA, I would over-commit to stopping whatever offense I could from short-range and mid-range and let them beat me with three-pointers if they could. At least they're not as potent that way.
(6) SLOW IT DOWN — This should go without saying. UCLA is 338th (out of 357 teams) in Adjusted Tempo, according to the metrics gurus at KenPom. They need to come out with the objective of reducing the number of possessions. Against Michigan they permitted the Wolverines only 57 possessions. Hey – it's not a unique approach, and it obviously hasn't been all that successful. But it will give them the best chance to keep this game close in the second half.
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