The second half of Saturday’s Final Four doubleheader features the Gonzaga Bulldogs taking on the UCLA Bruins in a West Coast battle. The game will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, with Gonzaga favored by 14 points and the over/under set at 145 points.
Few expected UCLA to reach the Final Four, especially after trailing Michigan State by 11 points at halftime in the First Four. But five wins, including two overtime victories, later, the Bruins are in the Final Four. Last weekend, Mick Cronin’s team knocked off no. 2 seed Alabama and no. 1 seed Michigan in a three-day span to win the East Region.
UCLA’s reward for reaching the Final Four is playing undefeated Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are 30-0, coasting through the West Coast Conference during the regular season and winning four NCAA Tournament games by at least 10 points. Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight victories both came by comfortable margins. To date, just one of their 30 wins this season has come by less than 10 points.
Fear the ‘Stache
Drew Timme and his handlebar mustache have been the star of the tournament thus far. After only playing long enough to score 10 points against Norfolk State, Timme has averaged 25 points per game over Gonzaga’s last three wins. Even in the Elite Eight against a USC team that should have had the size to deal with him, Timme had no trouble scoring 23 points in 31 minutes of action.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga’s supporting cast is just as intimidating. First-Team All-American Corey Kispert has almost been an afterthought during Gonzaga’s tournament run, despite remaining remarkably consistent and efficient. The Bulldogs also have point guard Jalen Suggs, who is the straw that stirs the drink at both ends of the court. Finally, guards Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard join Suggs in creating a talented and versatile backcourt.
While it’s been a team effort for the Bruins in many respects, there’s no denying that Johnny Juzang has been the star of the show. He’s carried UCLA throughout the tournament, averaging 15.5 points per game on the season but 21.6 points in five tournament games. With most of the team struggling against Michigan, Juzang stepped up and scored 28 of the team’s 51 points to secure the win.
However, point guard Tyger Campbell might be equally crucial to UCLA’s success in the Final Four. Outside of Juzang, he was the only UCLA to score more than four points against Michigan. He’s also the team’s primary ball-handler and creative force, averaging 5.3 assists per game on the season. Campbell is the biggest reason why the Bruins have committed eight or fewer turnovers in every tournament game. That trend will have to continue for UCLA to keep its amazing run alive.
Bruins Will Battle
UCLA has done a brilliant job all tournament of playing tough defense and forcing teams to play on their terms. However, that won’t be easy against Gonzaga. The Bruins have played a level in this tournament that will allow them to keep things interesting against the Bulldogs.
Gonzaga will win, but bet on UCLA to beat the 14-point spread and keep the final score respectable.
BETTING PICK: UCLA Bruins (+14).
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