Gonzaga is one of the nation’s most consistent basketball programs and, really, one of the great success stories in the sport.
Who would believe that a West Coast Conference school in Spokane, Wash., would be an NCAA Tournament regular with a coach who has stayed for more than a decade?
Yet coach Mark Few has one major hole on his résumé — a trip to the Final Four. The Zags haven’t even been to the Elite Eight since his tenure began. The postseason exits have included five losses in the Sweet 16 or round of 32 as a top-four seed.
That may change this season, but the Bulldogs have have to conquer the demons of 2006 to keep moving. Gonzaga lost to UCLA 73-71 in the 2006 Sweet 16, a game that reduced star forward Adam Morrison to tears. Gonzaga has had two top-two seeds since that loss, this one and the team that lost to Wichita State in the round of 32 two years ago.
For times to change, Gonzaga on one hand faces a No. 11 seed but also a team with some historical baggage and an offense that can match the Bulldogs’ prolific scoring ability.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 2 Gonzaga
Region: South (Houston)
Time: Friday, 7:15 p.m. ET
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill
Line: Gonzaga by 8 1/2
Matchup to Watch: UCLA’s Tony Parker vs. the Gonzaga frontcourt
UCLA’s big jokester has become a serious impact player on the court. The Bruins are at their best when they can get to Parker off the dribble drive. UCLA is 7-2 when Parker gets 10 shots from the field, including four of the last six games. Gonzaga counters with 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski.
Tournament Surprise: Bryce Alford’s scoring
Alford scored 27 points in the upset of SMU and 22 in the win over UAB, marking the first time all year he’s topped 20 points in back-to-back games. Alford averaged 15.1 points per game entering the NCAA Tournament.
UCLA will win if...
The starting five can continue to hold up. Benches shorten during the NCAA Tournament, but UCLA is taking this to the extreme. The Bruins aren’t a particularly deep team, but they’ve received only 6 points from their bench in the first weekend of the Tournament.
Gonzaga will win if...
The Bulldogs run their offense with minimal interruption. Gonzaga is one of the nation’s best all-around offensive teams from the field, ranking second in 2-point shooting and third in 3-point shooting. This game has all the ingredients for a track meet, and Gonzaga should be able to match up better in those conditions with UCLA than SMU or UAB did.
Athlon Staff Predictions
David Fox: Gonzaga 85-71
Braden Gall: Gonzaga 80-59
Mitch Light: Gonzaga 88-77
Jake Rose: Gonzaga 82-68