Trojans will try and upset the undefeated Bulldogs with a spot in the Final Four on the line
No. 1 seed Gonzaga has encountered minimal resistance in reaching the Elite Eight. Will the Bulldogs finally face a true challenge from No. 6 seed USC in the West Regional Final?
Gonzaga (29-0) won by a double-digit margin for the 28th time this season when it blasted No. 5 seed Creighton 83-65 in the Sweet 16 on Sunday. Drew Timme powered the Bulldogs' explosive offense with 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Gonzaga was a model of efficiency, shooting 59.6 percent from the field and had 23 assists on 34 baskets. Defensively, the Bulldogs held the Bluejays to 5-of-23 shooting from 3-point range.
USC (25-7) looked equally impressive in reaching the Elite Eight for the first time since 2001. The Trojans rolled to their third straight blowout victory in the NCAA Tournament, drilling Oregon 82-68 in the Sweet 16 on Sunday. Isaiah White and Tahj Eaddy plucked the Ducks on the perimeter. The duo combined for 42 points and seven made 3-pointers. As a team, USC shot 58.5 percent from the field and went 10-of-17 from long distance.
USC won both prior meetings with Gonzaga, beating the Bulldogs in back-to-back seasons in 1991 and 1992.
West Region Final: No. 6 USC Trojans (25-7) vs. No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs (29-0)
Time: Tuesday, March 30 at 7:15 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)
Spread: Gonzaga -9.0
Keys for USC
Forcing turnovers will be USC's best weapon against Gonzaga. The Bulldogs were a bit careless with the ball against Creighton, coughing up 16 turnovers. The Bluejays only scored 14 points, but USC is good enough on offense to do better at converting turnovers into points. Defensively, the Trojans excel at making opponents work for shots and settling for bad looks late in the shot clock. If Gonzaga feels the pressure early, the Bulldogs may not know how to deal with it.
Efficient offense also is crucial against Gonzaga. The Bulldogs come at opponents in waves on both ends of the court. They have been most effectively challenged this season by teams that don't let the Bulldogs speed them up and take rushed shots. USC will need shooters like Tahj Eaddy, Isaiah White, Isaiah Mobley, and Drew Peterson to catch fire from outside so things open up at the rim. The Trojans are 21-of-35 from 3-point range in their last two games against Kansas and Oregon. White has led the way, going 7-of-9 from the perimeter in that stretch.
Keys for Gonzaga
Generating efficient offense has not been a problem for the Bulldogs thus far. Gonzaga will need to make it a focus against USC. The Trojans held both Drake and Kansas under 30 percent shooting in the first two rounds. Oregon only did marginally better, shooting 38 percent from the field. Gonzaga needs to be patient on offense and attack inside and outside. The Bulldogs cannot afford a slow start that will give the Trojans confidence and allow them to turn the game into a defensive slugfest that buys time for their offense to take over.
Gonzaga needs to take control in the paint and on the glass. That's easier said than done going up against a future NBA lottery pick like Evan Mobley. Success will ride on Drew Timme's ability to impose his will around the rim and Jalen Suggs' ability to drive and kick to outside shooters. Timme has been a force in his last two games, averaging 26.0 points on 73 percent shooting. That level of performance against USC could pay huge dividends.
Few teams have found a way to stay competitive with Gonzaga for even a half, let alone 40 minutes. The Bulldogs have length, speed, and athleticism in bunches. They are relentless on offense and can shut opponents down on defense at critical junctures. USC will need to play a near-flawless game to upset the nation's No. 1-ranked team. A more likely scenario involves Gonzaga rolling to its 30th victory and making its second Final Four appearance in school history.
Prediction: Gonzaga 80, USC 70
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports, and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.