How do you beat a team that has won every one of its 30 games this season?
That’s the question Mick Cronin and his staff need to find the answer for this evening.
Given the fact that the Gonzaga Bulldogs average more than 90 points per game, the answer certainly seems to involve defense. After all, UCLA has used defense to win just about every game they’ve played so far in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Gonzaga’s high-flying offense has not been held to fewer than 70 points so far this season. Meanwhile, the mantra I’ve used about the Bruins all season has been the first team to 70 wins and that would certainly seem to be the case today. If the Bruins get to 70 first, it means that the defense has held the Zags’ offense in check more than any other team this season and they have a shot to advance. If Gonzaga gets to 70 first, it means that the Bruins didn’t play defense well enough to give them a chance to win.
Years ago, Jim Valvano coined the phrase “Survive and advance.” UCLA has lived by this phrase so far in this year’s tournament. Now, they just need to survive two halves of basketball against a team that most think is the best in the country this year.
Let’s look at the Zags.
Sophomore forward Drew Timme leads the Bulldogs in scoring with 19.0 points per game as well as in rebounds with 7.2 rebounds per game. But the more dangerous guy on the Zags might be their other starting forward, senior Corey Kispert. Not only does Kispert give Gonzaga a 1-2 scoring punch with an average of 18.9 ppg, he is also the best three-point shooter on the team with a 45.3% shooting percentage behind the arc.
With the Zags having such a high average score offensively, it shouldn’t be a surprise that two more starters are also in double figures in points. Freshman guard Jalen Suggs is averaging 14.0 ppg, but what stands out more is the fact that Suggs leads the team in turnovers with 83 and steals with 53.
With the primary focus being on the Gonzaga offense, it’s easy to forget the defense, but the Zags’ defense is limiting teams to just 64.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. They are also forcing 11.25 turnovers per game while making 6.5 steals per game. And, Suggs is the most important part of the Zags’ defense.
Redshirt junior Joel Ayayi is the fourth Bulldog averaging in double figures for the year. He averages 11.8 ppg while also grabbing an average of 7.1 rebounds per game, which is good for second on the team.
Junior guard Andrew Nembhard is the fifth starter for Gonzaga and he isn’t exactly a slouch. He averages 9.1 points per game and he leads the team in assists with 128 for the season.
The overall strength of the Zags’ schedule is somewhat suspect. Sure, they opened with four non-conference wins against Kansas, Auburn, West Virginia and Iowa, but for the rest of the regular season, their two toughest games of the year were both against BYU who the Bruins also defeated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The most telling game the Zags played may have been their game on Tuesday against Southern Cal. Gonzaga throttled the Trojans, 85-66.
Ultimately, I think the Zags are due for a fall and the Bruins have been such a huge underdog all tournament long that I think UCLA will be loose and execute their defense as well as they possibly can.
Will it be enough? I sure hope so. But if it isn’t, it’s still been a helluva run.
The TuneIn player won’t embed here on Substack, but you can open another tab to listen. Today’s game is on CBS with Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson calling the game. If you would prefer to listen to Josh Lewin and Tracy Murray call today’s game instead you can listen to today’s game online.
Join your fellow Bruin fans discussing today’s game below.This is your UCLA Bruins vs. Gonzaga NCAA Final Four game thread.
Teams: UCLA Bruins (22-9) vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs (30-0)
Series Record: Gonzaga leads, 2-3
When: 5:34 pm PT, Saturday, April 3, 2021
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
TV: CBS with Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson
Live Stream: NCAA.com and the March Madness app
Radio/Audio:AM 1150 in Los Angeles with Josh Lewin and Tracy MurraySatellite Radio: Sirius XM Ch. 84 (National feed)And, of course, here in The Mighty Bruin Game Thread!
Live Stats: NCAA March Madness
Game Notes:UCLA Gonzaga
Thanks again for supporting The Mighty Bruin. Your paid subscriptions make this site possible. Questions, comments, story ideas, angry missives and more can be sent to to @TheMightyBruin on Twitter.
No reason to watch this game. The hucksters at CBS have already declared Gonzaga and Baylor playing Monday for the title. Another reason to turn the sound off watching these games. GO BRUINS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Haven't our medical professionals suffered enough, so why make them watch Miley Cyrus fuck up Queen and Blondie songs in a supposed honor of medical professionals? Seriously, that is who CBS chose??
No fear, Men! Nobody expected, or wants us here....so may as well have some fun while we are here! GO BRUINS! Beat some Zag a$$!
Let's go!!! We need a good start tonight.
It would sure be nice to see the "spank WSU by 30 and slap Utah at Utah" Bruins tonight. None of the pundits have seen the potential offense on this team. We need multiple contributors tonight.
Nothing to lose...Let’s Go!!!
Let’s do this!
Good afternoon. Let's win this thing.
Let's go, Bruins!!!
I can't sit
Johnny! First blood, Bruins!
I’m doing an 8 Clap of appreciation for TxBruinFan who is honoring karma and is not watching - again. He’s way tougher than I am.
OK, will someone get hot?
Great post D, Jaime!!
Nice D from Jaime.
That wasn't a flop-- he was throwing elbows the whole time
That energizer bunny's a killer!
Singleton in early
Jump ball, my ass
This game looks like it's going to be a knockdown, drag-out fight and that, ultimately, favors the Bruins.
Looks like Zags okay with playing the game at our pace
Can any announcer correctly pronounce Jaime's last name?
I love how Bruins coming out and playing their game, showing no fear of Zags
Spreading the points=good start
Very solid start. We can play with these guys!
Quit dribbling it, Riley! Just go up strong!!
Not calling many fouls
Not a smart foul by Jaime
Singleton in for Tyger
Good hustle, Jaime, but bad foul.
From Rodeo Dr.!!
Jaime dribble drive to the hold and one!!
And the foul!
Jaime is on a mission today
That's Mr. Jaquez, CBS.
Love the passion Jaime is showing! Even that foul was part of a hustle play. Keep it up Bruins!!
We won the second 8 minutes. Good job!!